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Schiaparelli crash zone
Blackened streaks and bright bits of debris can be seen in this image of the crash zone for the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona)

High-resolution color images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show the spot where the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander crashed – in black and white and red all over.

The 8-foot-wide Schiaparelli spacecraft was deployed from ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter and descended to the Red Planet’s surface on Oct. 19, but a glitch caused the descent to go awry in its final minutes.

Rather than making a controlled landing with the aid of its parachute and thrusters, Schiaparelli slammed into the surface at more than 180 mph, leaving a pattern of black streaks and a scattering of light-colored debris.

Those bits of debris show up particularly well in the latest pictures from MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE. They may be pieces of insulation thrown out from the spacecraft when it hit the dirt.

ESA said a fuzzy, light-colored patch could represent surface material that was disturbed by the impact, or by a subsequent explosion, or by the explosive decompression of the lander’s fuel tanks.

HiRISE captured the color imagery on Tuesday, and the pictures were released today by ESA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Backshell and parachute
The HiRISE image on the left shows Schiaparelli’s circular rear heatshield and parachute on the Martian surface on Oct. 25. The image on the right shows the same area in color on Nov. 1, with a shift in the shape of the parachute. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona)

Another image shows the lander’s rear heatshield and parachute, which were jettisoned by the lander during descent and fell to the surface about a half-mile (0.9 kilometers) south of the main crash site. A comparison of pictures taken on Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 reveals shifts in the shape of what’s thought to be the parachute.

“The most logical explanation is that it has been shifted in the wind, in this case slightly to the west. This phenomenon was also observed by MRO in images of the parachute used by NASA’s Curiosity rover,” ESA said.

Further imagery will be acquired and sent back to Earth as part of the effort to figure out what exactly went wrong during Schiaparelli’s descent.

Although Schiaparelli didn’t survive, the Trace Gas Orbiter successfully entered Martian orbit on the same day. The orbiter, part of ESA’s multi-mission ExoMars campaign, is designed to analyze gases in the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere. It’s due to begin capturing images and making other science observations on Nov. 20.

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