New Delhi: The second historic attempt of Europe to explore Martian surface meets a tragic end. A NASA probe suggests that the European Mars Lander, named Schiaparelli, suffered a violent crash on the Mars surface, the European Space Agency said on Friday. The newly released pictures from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows dark patch that scientists assume was caused by the lander’s impact.
The image contained a white spot, thought to be the doomed lander`s parachute spread out on the alien surface, some 170 million kilometres (106 million miles) from Earth.
About two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the white spot is a larger, black patch with fuzzy outlines, some 15 by 40 metres (49 by 131 feet) -- interpreted as Schiaparelli`s crash site.
The black spot is "larger than it would have been if Schiaparelli was in one piece", flight director Michel Denis told AFP. "It is smashed."
The ESA said the lander`s speed-breaking retro-rocket boosters appeared to have switched off prematurely.
"Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between two and four kilometres, therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 kilometres (186 miles) per hour," it said in a statement.
"It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full."
Engineers and scientists are combing through the data Schiaparelli sent home before its untimely demise, to piece together exactly what happened.Schiaparelli was on a test-run for a future rover meant to seek out evidence of life, past or present, on the Red Planet.
But it fell silent seconds before scheduled touchdown, while its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) entered Mars` orbit as planned.
The pair comprised phase one of a project dubbed ExoMars through which Europe and Russia seek to join the United States in operating a succesful rover on Mars.
Europe`s first attempt, in 2003, also ended in disappointment when the British-built Beagle 2 robot lab disappeared without trace after separating from its mothership, Mars Express, in 2003.
The 230 million-euro ($251-million) Schiaparelli had travelled for seven years and 496 million kilometres (308 million miles) onboard the TGO to within a million kilometres of Mars last Sunday, when it set off on its own mission to reach the surface.
The disc-shaped 577-kg (1,272 lb) Schiaparelli probe, part of the Russian-European ExoMars programme to search for evidence of life on Mars, descended on Wednesday to test technologies for a rover that scientists hope to send to the surface of the planet in 2020.
But contact to the vehicle was lost around 50 seconds before the expected landing time, leaving its fate uncertain until the NASA images were received.
(With Agency inputs)