The US probe  Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which was in orbit around Mars for 10 years, has located a black spot on the planet’s surface corresponding to the lander  ‘Schiaparelli’, mission Euro-Russian  ExoMars,  as explained by the  European Space Agency (ESA). As it appeared, the module “crashed on the surface of Mars on Wednesday,” has finally confirmed the ESA.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter view of Schiaparelli landing site
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter view of Schiaparelli landing site

The spacecraft has been located fairly close, about five kilometers from the place originally scheduled for landing, in the region of Meridiani Planum .

In the images captured by the camera CTX low-resolution MRO can be seen that the  dark stain  left by ‘Schiaparelli’ is much larger than the size of the module – measures 15 by 40 meters, two meters against having really-, which it is interpreted as a result of the violent impact on the ground. Also, at the bottom, one kilometer from the damaged module, there is a  second very small spot, white , that mission specialists believe is the parachute. The large circular figure is the crater  Endurance .

The image on the left, from a photographic sweep Meridiani Planum by MRO last Thursday, in an overflight planned previously, have been compared with other images taken by the same orbiter in May, right, where nothing abnormal was observed. The images have a resolution of six meters per pixel.

FASTER THAN EXPECTED

‘Schiaparelli’ came to the surface at a “faster than expected rate,” said  Thierry Blancquaert, the control center in Darmstadt (Germany), after contact was lost about 50 seconds before the scheduled time for landfall. Quite possibly, ESA continues, and the retros failed module rushed to the ground from a height of two to four kilometers, with a top speed at the time of  impact of 300 kilometers per hour.

One of the possibilities to explain the large size of the dark spot is mostly because that the impact was caused by an explosion, possibly due to unused fuel in the tank during landing operation. It may also be the result of a large crater formed by the impact. Or both.

“Images can also reveal the location of the front heat shield, which fell from a higher altitude,” added ESA.

Since the descent path of the module was observed from three different locations, the space agency concludes, “the teams are sure to be able to reconstruct the chain of events with great precision.” For now, the most likely hypothesis points to a failure in the computer brain of the module.