New pictures taken by a NASA satellite indicate the experimental Schiaparelli lander may have ended in smoke when it plummeted to Mars’ surface last week.
The images released on Thursday show the Schiaparelli probe created a shallow crater on Mars after crashing at speed shortly prior to touch down.
On October 19, the European Space Agency (ESA) lost contact with the lander around 50 seconds before the expected landing time.
But two days later, pictures captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter offered a more detailed look at Schiaparelli’s likely fate.
They indicate that Schiaparelli dug a crater some 50cm deep and about 2.4m across when it hit the surface at more than 300 km/h.
The ESA is still analysing the asymmetrical dark markings surrounding the landing site, but said it may mean the probe exploded.
It said it may mean the craft’s propellant tanks exploded largely in one direction according to pictures.
A number of visible white spots around the site could also be related to the impact.
The ESA said one of the larger spots south of the impact zone is likely to be the parachute and back shield released from Schiaparelli prior to its final phase.
A third speck to the east is suspected to be the front heat shield.
The 577 kg Schiaparelli probe was part of the Russian-European ExoMars program to search for evidence of life on Mars.
The lander was designed to test technology for the ESA’s attempt to put a robot on Mars in 2020.
It was only the second European attempt to land a craft on Mars, after a failed mission by the British landing craft Beagle 2 in 2003.
– with ABC