ESA's Schiaparelli lander hits Mars' surface hard


American space agency NASA recently released images, taken by its own probes on October 20, showing two recent changes on the planet's surface - a dark blotch and a different white speck, which were interpreted by scientists as Schiaparelli's parachute and the crash site.

Pictures taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show a black spot in the area where the Schiaparelli lander was meant to touch down Wednesday, the European Space Agency said.

"Schiaparelli reached the ground with a velocity that was much higher than it should have been, several hundred kilometres per hour, and was then unfortunately destroyed by the impact", ExoMars flight director Michel Denis told Reuter.

ESA said the other part of the ExoMars mission - the Trace Gas Orbiter - was "working very well and will take science calibration data during two orbits in November".

Further analysis will include reviewing images from the HiRISE, a high-resolution camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a multipurpose spacecraft operated by NASA that is assisting in efforts to explore Mars.

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The rockets switching off early also meant most of their fuel was unused, making it "possible" that the lander "exploded on impact", the agency said. The space probe called Schiaparelli weighs 577 kg or 1272 lbs, its main goal was to explore the Red Planet and search for possible signs of life. The Beagle probe, which landed on Mars more than a decade ago, also failed to properly deploy its solar panels, which prevented it from functioning. The probe will take images of Mars and conduct scientific measurements on the surface, but its main objective is to test technology for a future European Mars rover.

Despite interests in the red planet, landing a probe on Mars is notoriously hard due to the thin and dusty atmosphere of the planet. Schiaparelli attempted to land on the planet on October 19, but after its 6-minute descent, it lost contact shortly before touchdown.

An artist's impression of the Schiaparelli lander during its parachute descent.

The second feature was described as "a fuzzy dark patch roughly 15 by 40 metres in size" north of the parachute.

While Schiaparelli was able to beam back some 600 megabytes of data before the crash, scientists won't get any of the close-up photos the probe took during its descent.