Written by Bryce Getchell | @Porkfryedbryce
Last week the Schiaparelli Mars Lander of the ExoMars mission went silent shortly before its final descent upon the red planet. For a while there was no feedback from the lander, leaving us in the dark as to whether or not Schiaparelli had a successful landing.
NASA has just released information that their Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken photographs of Schiaparelli and its location of descent. These images, taken on October 25th by the Orbiter’s high-resolution camera, reveal the fate of Schiaparelli as it landed despite malfunctions during its final phase of descent.
These images provide us with a detailed look at the components and hardware used during the descent sequence. The context images reveal a fuzzy dark spot that is associated with the impact of Schiaparelli on the planet’s surface. High-resolution gives us more details of the crater, which is predicted to be 50cm deep. The images also provided several dark marking which are inconsistent with how Schiaparelli should have landed. The markings would have been accurate if Schiaparelli had hit the surface at around 40,000 – 80,000 km/h, throwing debris out in every direction upon impact. However Schiaparelli landed much much slower than this, descending almost vertically before impact.
NASA Scientists are currently looking into this and trying to construct a scenario which explains the inconsistent patterns of Schiaparelli’s impact. One theory so far is that Schiaparelli may have had one of its Hydrazine propellant tanks explode which may have thrown the debris and created these strange markings. A long dark arc in one of the photos may indicate an explosion, but is currently unexplained.
Scientists are currently exploring several possibilities of this analysis, for now we will need to wait and see what they conclude. In the meantime, you can find more information about Schiaparelli’s descent and the ExoMars Mission by visiting the ESA website and continue to follow UpportunityU for any updates on the ExoMars Mission.