China's Tianwen-1 probe beams back its first picture of Mars

The first image of Mars taken by China's Tianwen-1 unmanned probe.
The first image of Mars taken by China's Tianwen-1 unmanned probe. via REUTERS - CHINA NATIONAL SPACE ADMINISTRAT

The Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1 has snapped its first photo of Mars, as the probe gets set to enter orbit around the red planet in less than a week.


CNSA, the China National Space Administration, said the black and white image was captured at a distance of 2.2 million kilometres from the Martian surface.

It showed geological features including the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris, a system of deep, vast canyons that runs more than 4,000 kilometres along the Martian equator.

The Tianwen-1 probe includes an orbiter, lander and a rover, which is expected to touch down later this year in Utopia, Mars’s largest impact basin.

Rival missions

Is is one of three exploration missions launched in July 2020 in an effort to answer one of science’s most enduring questions: was there ever life on Mars? 

While these days it may be an icy, barren desert, recent robot missions have revealed Mars actually has dried-out river channels and lake beds – leading scientists to speculate there’s a good chance the fourth planet from the Sun may have once harboured life.

The other two unmanned probes, launched by the United States and the United Arab Emirates, are also weeks away from their arrival.  

The missions were timed to coincide with the window during which Earth and Mars were at their closest point in more than two years. 

While they will be costly, astro-biologists say the red planet still offers the best hope of finding evidence of alien life.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning