Disaster on Mars stuns scientists

Disaster on Mars stuns scientists

ESA’s ExoMars Schiaparelli attempt to land on the surface of the Red Planet appears to have ended tragically.

Scientists had tremendously high hopes for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Schiaparelli spacecraft, but all indications are that it crashed on Mars and won’t be able to perform the experiments scientists had hoped to conduct. More importantly, it makes a future attempted landing more risky.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified markings on the surface of Mars that are believed to be from ESA’s ExoMars Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing, according to an ESA statement. Schiaparelli attempted to land on the planet on Oct. 19, but after its 6-minute descent, it lost contact shortly before touchdown.

The Trace Gas Orbiter, which is currently circling the Red Planet and was the vehicle that delivered the probe, is sending back data that scientists are analyzing to try to understand what went wrong.

The ESA statement reads: “One of the features is bright and can be associated with the 12-m diameter parachute used in the second stage of Schiaparelli’s descent, after the initial heat shield entry. The parachute and the associated back shield were released from Schiaparelli prior to the final phase, during which its nine thrusters should have slowed it to a standstill just above the surface.

“The other new feature is a fuzzy dark patch roughly 15 x 40 metres in size and about 1 km north of the parachute. This is interpreted as arising from the impact of the Schiaparelli module itself following a much longer free fall than planned, after the thrusters were switched off prematurely.”

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