A University of Arizona camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has sent back images of the crash site of a European Martian lander that will help investigators understand what happened.
The European Space Agency's Schiaparelli lander was lost Oct. 19. Its mother ship, the Trace Gas Orbiter, is successfully circling Mars.
HiRISE's photographs show the lander, its heat shield and parachute and back shield strewn across the expected landing zone in the Meridiani Planum, a plain near the Martian equator.
"We see exactly where each of these parts fell on the surface, which helps them to reconstruct the timeline of what happened," said Alfred McEwen, a UA planetary scientist and HiRISE's principal investigator.
Initial analyses indicate the lander's thrusters, used to slow the spacecraft to a soft landing, switched off prematurely.
The Schiaparelli lander and Trace Gas Orbiter are elements of the ESA's ExoMars 2016 mission, a precursor to the agency's planned 2020 ExoMars rover mission.
McEwen said more images will be taken in color next week, which could provide additional clues about the landing module's fate.
For 10 years, HiRISE – or the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment - has been taking spectacular images of features on Mars. The camera helped NASA select the landing site for the UA-run Phoenix Mars Mission.
The camera photographed the Phoenix lander as it descended under its parachute to the Martian surface. It also has imaged the landing sites of the Viking 1 and 2 missions, and it found the Beagle 2's resting place 12 years after that lander descended.