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Parts of crashed lander seen across Mars in detailed image

NASA helps the European Space Agency investigate the failed ExoMars lander with an image showing parts strewn across the planet's surface.

A closer look at the lander's resting place.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The ExoMars mission's Schiaparelli lander was supposed to land gently on the Red Planet on October 19. Instead, it took a catastrophic dive. Shortly thereafter, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter located the wreckage and then went back for a closer look at the site on October 25. This detailed image shows the lander and its descent hardware spread over the landscape.

The ESA released an annotated version of the image on Thursday, pointing out the blackened impact site, the front headshield, the parachute, the rear heatshield and an unexplained arcing dark patch on the ground near the impact.

NASA's orbiter will take more images in the coming weeks to help ESA investigators as they search for answers. The initial portions of the landing sequence seemed to go well. "The latter stages of the descent sequence, from the jettisoning of the rear shield and parachute, to the activation and early shut-off of the thrusters, are still being explored in detail," the ESA says.

Despite Schiaparelli's unfortunate fate, the rest of the ExoMars mission is humming along as planned. The lander was just a test for future missions, so the ESA will focus on figuring out what went wrong to protect later landers.