Spacecraft makes its mark on Red Planet

The zoomed insets provide close-up views of what are thought to be several different hardware components associated with the Schiaparelli module's descent to the martian surface.

Story highlights

  • Mars mission ended with hard landing on planet's surface
  • Schiaparelli designed as a test flight for 2020 mission to Mars

(CNN)There are many craters on Mars -- but this one is different.

New images show a fresh, dark mark on the face of the Red Planet. This one was made by the Schiaparelli spacecraft when it hit the surface hard after a systems malfunction.
The pictures -- taken by a NASA Mars orbiter this week -- reveal the final resting place of the Mars lander, reported lost by the European Space Agency earlier this month.
They also hint at the violence of the impact made by the speeding Schiaparelli at the end of its fiery plunge through the martian atmosphere.
Schiaparelli was designed to be a test flight for another mission -- a planned 2020 launch that will send a rover to Mars.
The agency suspects something went wrong when a parachute was jettisoned.
"The ejection itself appears to have occurred earlier than expected, but analysis is not yet complete," it said in a statement.

Thrusters may have cut off too early

At a news conference announcing the loss of the craft, ESA's Director General, Jan Wörner, said Schiaparelli's primary role was to test whether they could successfully land a probe on Mars.
"Recording the data during the descent was part of that, and it is important we can learn what happened, in order to prepare for the future," Wörner said.
The probe was equipped with nine thrusters that were due to be activated for the last 30 seconds to help cushion the landing. While they were confirmed to have been briefly activated, the agency believes they may have switched off sooner than expected.
After monitoring its descent, scientists at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, did not get a signal back from the 1,272 pound (577 kilogram) probe.

Sister ship is safe

Schiaparelli's companion craft, an orbiter with a much longer mission, successfully made it to orbit. The Trace Gas Orbiter will investigate the source of methane on Mars, which could be a sign of life or geological processes.
The orbiter adds to a number of craft that are looking for signs of life on our neighboring planet.
The presence of methane is a signature of life on Earth, so the orbiting spacecraft will be trying to detect it on Mars -- and determine where it is coming from.
The Trace Gas Oribiter is expected to operate until 2020.