The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA's most powerful telescope that orbits the red planet, provided new intricate details on the scene near the Martian equator where Europe's Schiaparelli test lander crashed.
The observation dates Oct. 25, and it used the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera to identify three impact locations, each about 0.9 miles away from one another. According to the images, the hardware's impact with the ground has produced a roughly circular feature where the lander struck.
There was also a pattern of rays that extended from the circle, showing that the impact caused a shallow crater, as it was presumed it would. At roughly 0.8 miles away in the eastern direction, there was an object presenting numerous bright spots and surrounded by darkened ground - according to the specialists, it is plausible that is the heat shield.
According to the same images, at 0.9 miles south of the main impact are two features near one another, suggesting the spacecraft's parachute and the back shell fell there. Other images exploring the location from different angles will be taken in order to help interpret the early results of these first observations.
The test lander belongs to the European Space Agency's ExoMars 2016, the mission that released the Trace Gas Orbiter into orbit on Oct. 19. As part of this mission, the surface and atmosphere of the red planet would have been analyzed, gathering relevant data from the lander on Mars.
The data Schiaparelli transmitted as part of its descent enabled the analysis of the reasons why the probe's thrusters shut down prematurely. These new images confirm the first hypotheses of the astronomers and provide detailed images of the impact location.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter started observing Mars back in 2006. Among its instruments providing records and captions, the HiRISE and the CTX are some of the most popular.
The Schiaparelli crash took place on Oct. 19, and it is suspected that the cause of the premature shutdown of the engines was related to a possible computer glitch. This may have caused the lander to believe it was closer to the ground that it actually was, hence the maneuvers it performed that suggested that it was ready to explore the planet's surface.
It was 4 minutes and 41 seconds in after a flawless performance of previous maneuvers that the lander simply shut down the engine, ejecting the heat shield parachute way ahead of time. According to the specialists, the computer glitch could be a sensor issue, contributing to a lower estimation of the altitude and the lack of accuracy.