The always watchful Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) flew directly over the crash site of Europe’s Schiaparelli lander again this week. We’ve already seen high-resolution images of the impact site. This time, MRO’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera added a splash of color. Let’s take a look.

ESA lander color image

Man, it has to be rough for the scientists and engineers who put in countless hours putting the lander together. But it’s not all bad. Schiaparelli was after all a test lander. Now, the ExoMars team needs to figure out exactly what happened and address it before the 2020 mission launches.

The top slice of the image shows us the main impact zone. This is where the bulk of the lander slammed into the Martian dirt at speeds estimated to be a few hundred km/h. MRO’s color image offers new details. See the white spots around the main impact zone? In non-color images last week, the European Space Agency (ESA) thought it might be noise. But at least the four bright spots near the impact are not noise. They are present in the same location on both images. That rules out noise. Best guess? The white spots are pieces of what’s left after Schiaparelli’s crash.

The image slice at the bottom left shows us the parachute and back shell. And on the lower right, we see the heat shield. Bright spots on the heat shield appear the same in November 1 and Oct. 25 images. It’s likely the bright material is insulation, not reflections.

And here’s one more look at the parachute and back shell.

Schiaparelli parachute moves

Looks like ET is messing with us and moved the parachute a bit.

It’s the wind. NASA saw similar shifting in the parachute in the six months after Curiosity made it to Mars in 2012.

More images coming shortly

The ExoMars team will be on the lookout for any more changes when NASA’s MRO soars right above the crash site in about two weeks. These higher resolution and color images could play a major role in reconstructing exactly what happened during the lander’s attempted lander.

Here’s what the ESA knows. The lander successfully entered the Martian atmosphere. It slowed like it was supposed to via the heat shield and parachutes. But for some reason, the thrusters used to slow the craft to a much more manageable speed at landing switched off early. Investigations into the root cause of why that happened continue. An independent inquiry board has also been established.

Trace Gas Orbiter is doing great

The other half of the ExoMars mission is doing great. The Trace Gas Orbiter is set to make its first science observations during two elliptical orbits around Mars starting on November 20. It will also snap its first images of the planet since entering orbit in the middle of October.

I’ll keep you posted as more images are released and as the ESA begins talking about what exactly went wrong on October 19.


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