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Crater Caused by Crashed Mars Lander Could be Next Target for Scientific Research

Nov 02, 2016 04:12 AM EDT

Following the demise of Europe's Schiaparelli Mars lander, scientists are now shifting their attention to the small Martian crater caused by the crash.

On Oct. 19, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Schiaparelli lander was supposed to land on the surface of Mars. But minutes before its expected touchdown, mission controllers lost contact with the lander. It was later found that the disc-shaped, 577-kg probe crashed on the planet and was destroyed when its thrusters stopped firing too soon during its descent.

The lander had plummeted from a height of 1.2 to 2.5 miles and hit the ground at more than 300 km/h instead of landing softly as expected. When it crashed on the surface of Mars, it left a small crater about 1.6 feet deep and 8 feet wide.

While ESA is sorting out the details of the crash, scientists are looking at the new crater and wondering whether they could use the small portion of exposed subsurface for future studies, Seeker reports.

"We might see a shallow crater, which could provide some (information) on Mars surface properties, but it's complicated," Alfred McEwan, an astronomer at the University of Arizona and principal investigator for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), told Seeker.

However, other scientists are not keen on using the crater for research.

"The crater could still be interesting even if small, but in our case, it is likely to be contaminated by all kinds of material from the lander and its fuel," project scientist Håkan Svedhem, also told Seeker. "So I would not recommend any effort to study this place from that point of view."

NASA has recently released new images of the lander and the impact site taken from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE. Schiaparelli crashed near the Meridiani Planum region, its intended landing site.

Despite Schiaparelli's ill-fated landing, the ExoMars mission is still rolling. The lander's mothership, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), had successfully entered Mars' orbit and is still looking well and healthy. Continuous decoding of data extracted from the recording of the lander's descent signals is also ongoing.

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