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Emily LakdawallaOctober 19, 2016

Brief update: Opportunity's attempt to image Schiaparelli unsuccessful

Today, the Opportunity rover attempted a difficult, never-before-possible feat: to shoot a photo of an arriving Mars lander from the Martian surface. Unfortunately, that attempt seems not to have succeeded. Opportunity has now returned the images from the observation attempt, but science team member and sky-imaging expert Mark Lemmon states "I see nothing but cosmic rays hits in the Pancam images." Cosmic ray hits are bright spots or streaks caused by energetic particles from space striking the camera detector. They're common features in spacecraft images and can usually be discerned by their crisp edges and streaked shape. The Opportunity image below is one of the Schiaparelli imaging attempts that contains a particularly bright cosmic ray hit.

Opportunity's unsuccessful attempt to image Schiaparelli

Opportunity's unsuccessful attempt to image Schiaparelli
The Opportunity rover stared hopefully above the horizon on October 19, 2016 to attempt to spot the Schiaparelli lander under parachute, taking several images, but the attempt was not successful. Some images do have stray specks but, like the one in this image, they are too long and angled wrong to be the European lander.

According to tweets from science team member Barbara Cohen, Opportunity imaging was designed to catch Schiaparelli about 10 seconds after parachute deployment, continuing for about 50 seconds. The imaging was designed to see Schiaparelli on its parachute, just after deployment; it was considered possible but unlikely to see backshell separation. However, because of the ridge to Opportunity's north, the imaging would only have succeeded if Schiaparelli had "gone long" on landing, as most past Mars landers have. Unfortunately, there's no unambiguous sign of Schiaparelli in Opportunity's images, so we'll have to wait until the next press briefing to learn anything more about Schiaparelli's fate.

Read more: pics of spacecraft in space, Opportunity, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers, ExoMars TGO, Mars

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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