spaceSpace and Physics

China’s Tianwen-1 Sends Back First Incredible High-Res Images Of Mars


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor

Tianwen-1 first high-def image Mars

Tianwen-1's incredible image of the Martian north pole. Image credit: CNSA

China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft currently orbiting Mars has sent back its first high definition images of the Red Planet and they are incredible. There really is no such thing as too much Mars.

In early February, the probe sent back its first images of Mars, but these new images released by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) are much more detailed, revealing clear features on the surface. 


The probe, which is orbiting Mars in preparation for a landing on the surface in the not-too-distant future, took the surface photos with its high-definition camera when it was about 330–350 kilometers (205–217 miles) above the Martian surface. The color image, snapped by another camera on the orbiter, shows Mars's north pole in stunning detail.

The two black and white images have a resolution of 7 meters, meaning the cameras can distinguish objects just 7 meters apart, and reveal mountain ridges, craters, and sand dunes. It is estimated the largest impact crater seen here is around 620 meters (2,034 feet) across, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reports.

Tianwen-1 surface of Mars
The largest crater is thought to be about 620 meters across. You can also see mountain ridges (the snaking line) and sand dunes (the inverted vs). Image credit: CNSA

Tianwen-1, which means Questions to Heaven, launched to Mars in July 2020, along with Perseverance and the United Arab Emirates' first mission to Mars, Hope, thanks to the short launch window last summer that meant the trip to Mars would be just 7 months.  

The spacecraft is made up of the orbiter, a lander, and a 6-wheeled rover. The orbiter reached Mars on February 24, 2021, and the CNSA has said it will orbit Mars for three months before attempting a landing, possibly in May or June 2021. According to the agency, they are eyeing the southern part of Mars's Utopia Planitia, a large plain within the Utopia crater — the largest recognized crater in the entire Solar System — as the landing site.


The as-yet-unnamed rover can move at 200 meters (656 feet) per hour, which is pretty speedy for a Mars rover. Curiosity currently trundles at 140 meters (460 feet) per hour and Perseverance, when it gets going, will be able to make a slightly faster 152 meters (500 feet) per hour. It also carries six scientific instruments to carry out tasks on the planet, including ground-penetrating radar and a multispectral camera.

Tianwen-1 surface Mars
The high-res images reveal a wealth of natural and impact-made features on the Martian landscape. Image credit: CNSA

Until Tianwen-1's landing capsule is released and it deploys what will hopefully be the sixth rover on Mars, all seven payloads on the orbiter will be activated during its 3-month stay in parking orbit to carry out tasks such as analyzing land features and monitoring the weather for an optimal landing. 

As CNSA pointed out, Tianwen-1 is the world's 46th Mars mission and only 19 of those have been successful, so join us in May or June when we go through the wild ride that is the "7 minutes of terror" again as China attempts to make history as only the second nation to successfully land a rover on Mars. 


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