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The ExoMars mission was in the spotlight last week after the orbiter and lander combination reached Mars.
Although the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) was successfully captured in orbit around the planet, nothing was heard from the Schiaparelli lander, which separated from the TGO to actually touch down on the Red Planet.
Now, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found new markings on Mars which may be the landing site and parachutes of the lander.
“The new image shows a bright spot that may be Schiaparelli’s parachute, and a larger dark spot interpreted as resulting from the impact of the lander itself following a much longer free fall than planned, after thrusters switched off prematurely,” the space agency explained.
The agency added that the location of the bright spot roughly matches their own calculations for the lander’s touchdown location.
The Schiaparelli lander, part of the ExoMars mission, may have smashed into Mars at high speed
“This is within the planned landing area and about 3.3 miles (5.4 kilometres) west of the center of the landing target. A dark spot is larger and elliptical, approximately 50 by 130 feet (15 by 40 metres). It may be where the lander reached the surface and exposed darker ground.”
ExoMars: ESA & Russia’s lander to touch down Wednesday
The European Space Agency used the new images and data to form preliminary findings.
“Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between two and four kilometres, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 km/h. The relatively large size of the feature would then arise from disturbed surface material. It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full. These preliminary interpretations will be refined following further analysis.”