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Photos Show European-Russian Mars Probe Likely Crashed, Exploded

An illustration of the Schiaparelli lander released by the European Space Agency before it crashed.

A joint European-Russian space probe appears to have exploded upon landing on the surface of Mars, satellite pictures showed on October 21.

NASA satellite images show a black spot in the area where the Schiaparelli lander was meant to touch down on October 20, the European Space Agency said. The images end two days of speculation prompted by the probe's radio silence after the planned landing.

The agency said the probe dropped through Mars' notoriously thin atmosphere too fast, at speeds greater than 300 kilometers per hour.

It said the large disturbance captured in the NASA photographs provides evidence of a crash-landing, which sprayed debris 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.

Schiaparelli was designed to test technology for a more ambitious European Mars landing in 2020. The probe's mother ship was successfully placed into orbit earlier in the week.

While the crash was a painful reminder of the difficulty of landing on Mars, scientists said the probe's mission was partly successful in sending out a wealth of useful information before the crash.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa