Mars lander Schiaparelli: Wreckage spotted

What Schiaparelli should have looked like on Mars (ESA)
What Schiaparelli should have looked like on Mars (ESA)

RIP, Schiaparelli.

Images taken by NASA's Mars orbiter indicate that Europe's missing landing craft fell to the red planet's surface from a height of two to four kilometres and was destroyed on impact.

The disc-shaped 577kg Schiaparelli probe, part of a broader mission to search for evidence of life on Mars, descended to the planet's surface earlier this week to test technologies for a rover that scientists hope to send in 2020.

But contact to the vehicle was lost around 50 seconds before the expected landing time, leaving it uncertain until the NASA images were received whether Schiaparelli made it to the surface in good working conditions.

It didn't. Photos taken by the Mars orbiter in May of the intended landing site were compared to new images taken during a flyby on Friday, and two new objects could be seen.

"One of the features is bright and can be associated with the 12m diameter parachute used in the second stage of Schiaparelli's descent, after the initial heat shield entry," the ESA wrote on in a post on its website.

"The parachute and the associated back shield were released from Schiaparelli prior to the final phase, during which its nine thrusters should have slowed it to a standstill just above the surface."

Mars lander Schiaparelli: Wreckage spotted

Images taken by NASA's Mars orbiter (NASA/ESA)

The second feature is a "fuzzy dark patch" about 15m by 40m in size, a kilometre north of the parachute.

"This is interpreted as arising from the impact of the Schiaparelli module itself following a much longer freefall than planned," says the ESA.

Schiaparelli would have crashed at 300km/h, possible exploding on impact.

Mars lander Schiaparelli: Wreckage spotted

Before and after shots of the crash site (NASA/ESA)

A high-resolution camera will be trained on the site next week, the next time the Mars orbiter flies overhead.

The ESA's TGO orbiter is working fine, and sending back data. It will begin its primary mission - analysing the Martian atmosphere - in 2017.

Reuters / Newshub.