Mars lander debris spotted

Mars lander impact site

CRASH LANDING  The impact site of the Schiaparelli Mars lander, along with its parachute, rear heatshield and front heat shield, appear in new images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

JPL-Caltech/NASA, University of Arizona

The Schiaparelli Mars lander, missing in action since its October 19 descent, dinged the surface of the Red Planet. A black spot framed by dark rays of debris mark the lander’s final resting place, the European Space Agency reports online October 27. Its parachute, still attached to the rear heat shield, lies about 1.4 kilometers to the south, new images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show. The front heat shield, ejected about four minutes into the descent, sits roughly 1.4 kilometers to the east of the impact site.

Radio contact with Schiaparelli was lost about 50 seconds before its planned landing. Early analysis of data from the lander indicate that the parachute was jettisoned prematurely and that the landing rockets shut off just a few seconds after igniting. Engineers with ESA’s ExoMars mission are still analyzing that data to understand what went wrong.

Christopher Crockett is a freelance science writer and editor based in Arlington, Va. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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