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Recent NASA images suggest that China’s Mars rover could be nonfunctional amidst the dusty terrain

China's Zhurong Mars rover (Via Sean Star/Getty Images)

China’s Zhurong rover might have reached the end of its time on Mars. Recent images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that the rover stayed put on Utopia Planitia, a big plain in Mars’ north, from September 2022 to February 2023.

It was in a planned sleep mode since May 2022 but was supposed to wake up in December as Mars’ northern hemisphere moved into spring and more sunlight became available.

But China’s space agency hasn’t said anything about the rover’s condition. In January, two unnamed sources linked to China’s Mars mission, called Tianwen-1, told the South China Morning Post that the rover couldn’t reconnect with mission control.

NASA’s new images, released on Feb. 21, show the rover on Sept. 8, 2022, and Feb. 7, 2023.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Images (Via James Anderson/Shutterstock)

Since there’s no sign of movement, it seems the rover is still asleep. Maybe it’s because of the extra cold Martian winter — Zhurong needs it to be at least minus 15 degrees Celsius to work, according to Tianwen-1 officials.

Or perhaps dust is covering its solar panels, stopping it from getting power. Dusty panels were the end for NASA’s Mars InSight rover, which sent its last picture back to Earth on Dec. 19, 2022, after four years on Mars.

Zhurong hasn’t been officially declared dead yet. It might wake up if things warm up or if a storm clears its solar panels. But the new images show it didn’t wake up when it was supposed to after its planned sleep.

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