Science

Chinese rover hibernates during harsh winter on the Red Planet

We may have heard the latter from China’s Zhurong for a while, after the solar-powered rover went dormant due to winter cold and local sand and dust storms.

Zhurong went into hibernation on May 18, with temperatures around minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius) during the day on Mars and minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 100 degrees Celsius) at night, according to a statement from the China Lunar Exploration Program. China’s Tianwen 1 orbiter, which brought Zhurong to Mars last May, also captured sand and dust storm activity over the Zhurong landing site in Utopia Planitia with its medium resolution camera.

There are a few tricks to the Zhurong design to help it withstand winter temperatures, sand and dust storms. These measures include the ability to tilt the solar panels to maximize the collection of sunlight and a special dust-proof coating on the panels.

On the subject: 12 amazing photos of the first year of the Perseverance rover on Mars

The Chinese rover is not alone in its plight: NASA’s InSight lander, which arrived on the Red Planet in November 2018, is also struggling to produce enough solar power to keep going. In contrast, NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers can continue their journey across the surface of Mars regardless of the time of year because they are powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators, a type of nuclear power.

Evidence of sand and dust activity over Utopia Plain captured by the Tianwen 1 Orbiter’s Medium Resolution Camera on April 30, 2022. (Image credit: CNSA/PEC)

The Chinese Yutu rovers on the Moon are ordered to enter a dormant state for lunar nights, which last about 14 Earth days. However, according to Chinese officials, the Zhurong rover will be able to autonomously detect an improvement in solar energy levels and turn on again.

The rover is expected to resume operations again in December, with the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere and the disappearance of local dust storms.

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