BERLIN (AP) — Europe's experimental Mars probe hit the right spot — but at the wrong speed — and may have ended up in a fiery ball of rocket fuel when it struck the surface, scientists said Friday.
Pictures taken by a NASA satellite show a black spot in the area where the Schiaparelli lander was meant to touch down Wednesday, the European Space Agency said. The images end two days of speculation following the probe's unexpected radio silence less than a minute before the planned landing.
"Estimates are that Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between 2 and 4 kilometers (1.4-2.4 miles), therefore impacting at a considerable speed, greater than 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph)," the agency said.
It said the large disturbance captured in the NASA photographs may have been caused by the probe's steep crash-landing, which would have sprayed matter around like a blast site on Earth.
"It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full," the agency said.