China has almost reached the red planet.
The Chinese probe Tianwen-1 is just days away from entering orbit around Mars. That means it’s already close enough to get some pretty good looks at Earth’s neighbor, and one of those early looks has been beamed back home and released by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA).
The image was captured on Feb. 5 and released on Saturday. We know from CNSA’s description that the view you’re looking at is situated roughly 2.2 million kilometers (about 1.4 million miles) out from Tianmen-1’s ultimate destination.
The probe launched in July 2020, just a week ahead of NASA’s July 30 launch that sent the Perseverance rover off on its own mission to explore Mars. Tianmen-1 is expected to enter Mars orbit on Feb. 10, after which it will circle the planet for several months before sending down a rover. The probe’s arrival marks China’s first successful mission to Mars, following a failed joint attempt with Russia in 2011.
NASA’s probe should reach Mars orbit within the next two weeks. The Perseverance rover is expected to make its landing in the Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. The rover will also be joined by Ingenuity, a solar-powered helicopter drone that’s meant to scout around the crater and highlight points of interest for Perseverance to focus on.
Overall, NASA’s mission is meant to lay the groundwork for an eventual crewed journey to Mars. Together, the rover and drone will work to identify potentially habitable locations, test oxygen production, and gather and store samples for researchers.
Tianmen-1’s imminent arrival at the planet is the latest sign of a tightening space race for the modern era.