After NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found the landing site of the European Schiaparelli lander last week, the spacecraft was able to train its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera at the site. On Tuesday, the camera spied three locations where pieces of the lander hit the ground after the descent went wrong. NASA released that photo Thursday.
The sites where hardware has crashed on Mars are within about a mile of each other. The bright parachute is at the bottom of the image and just below it is a similarly shaped object, 8 feet in diameter, believed to be Schiaparelli’s dorsal shell. A dark radial pattern can be seen in the upper right of the image, consistent with where the spacecraft’s heat shield should have impacted. Nearby bright dots could be insulation reflecting in the sunlight.
The most prominent feature is in the center left of the image, which shows the impact of the lander. The 300 kg lander has created a shallow crater about 2.4 meters wide and perhaps half a meter deep. However, NASA image analysts could not explain the dark arc northeast of the impact crater. This “is unusual for a typical impact event and has not yet been explained,” the press release states. Later images should confirm whether this curved feature is image noise or an effect caused by the impact. (The space agency has ruled out tire marks from Mark Watney’s rover as the cause).
The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander crashed into Mars on October 19 due to a software bug. After a nominal descent through the upper atmosphere, the parachute and dorsal shell released prematurely and the spacecraft’s decelerating thrusters did not fire long enough. It crashed at a speed of more than 300 km/h. NASA should be able to collect full-color images in the coming weeks to continue ESA’s investigation.
Frame image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. from Arizona