When an object traveling through space encounters a planet, what survives of that encounter usually leaves a mark. This is no less true for meteorites than it is for expensive, carefully calibrated robots. Launched toward Mars by the European Space Agency, the Schiaparelli lander had an ominous, silent descent onto the red planet this week, leaving the world wondering whether it survived the landing.
When NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed over the landing site yesterday, it found evidence that something, indeed, made it to the surface.
A release from the European Space Agency about the finding is cautious in its language, never spelling out the possibility that the Schiaparelli lander is permanently offline. A small bright patch appears to be the lander's parachute and heat shield, and a larger dark spot, roughly 50 feet by 130 feet, could be the cloud of Schiaparelli's impact.