NASA spacecraft spots China's Mars rover Zhurong heading south on Red Planet (photo)

The HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this photo of China's Zhurong Mars rover (bottom) and its landing platform on June 11, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona)

China's first-ever Mars rover was on the move earlier this month, imagery by a NASA spacecraft shows.

The rover, named Zhurong, is part of Tianwen-1, China's first fully homegrown Red Planet mission, which arrived in orbit around Mars in February. Zhurong separated from the Tianwen-1 orbiter on May 14 and touched down on the vast plain Utopia Planitia a few hours later.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) photographed Zhurong on June 6 using its HiRISE ("High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment") camera, which is capable of resolving features as small as a coffee table on the red dirt far below. 

Related: China's Tianwen-1 Mars mission in photos

On Wednesday (June 23), the HiRISE team released a second image of Zhurong taken on June 11, which shows the rover and its tracks extending noticeably farther away from the mission's landing platform.

"The landing site remains distinctly colored from removal of Martian dust during landing, and movement of the Zhurong rover toward the south can be seen when comparing the two images," HiRISE team members wrote in a description of the photo.

MRO has been circling Mars since 2006, studying the planet's geology and climate, hunting for signs of water ice, scouting out good potential landing sites for future missions (both crewed and robotic) and serving as a communications relay between Mars rovers and landers and their controllers on Earth.

As the Zhurong images show, MRO also keeps tabs on the Red Planet's surface robots from time to time as well. Over the years, HiRISE has photographed NASA's Phoenix and InSight landers and the agency's Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Perseverance rovers — and Zhurong as well.

The camera even managed to document Perseverance's epic landing sequence on Feb. 18 of this year, photographing the rover's spacecraft descending through the Red Planet skies under its big supersonic parachute.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.