European Mars lander exploded after crashing into planet, images suggest

Updated: 

The European Space Agency's Schiaparelli Mars lander crashed into the Red Planet and exploded, satellite images suggest.

Photos taken by a powerful camera on an American orbiting spacecraft appear to show evidence of the probe's 12m (39ft) diameter parachute and a large dark patch that could be the scorched crash site.

Artists impression of probe separating from transport
This artist's impression shows the probe as it separated from its transport, the Trace Gas Operator (ESA/PA)

Scientists estimate the spacecraft dropped from a height of two to four kilometres (1.2-2.4 miles) and hit the ground at more than 300kmh (186mph).

"It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full," the ESA said in a statement. "These preliminary interpretations will be refined following further analysis."

Experts have been trying to piece together what happened to the disc-shaped craft after it stopped transmitting less than a minute before it was due to land on Wednesday. Data received from the probe during the earlier part of its six-minute descent indicated its three clusters of retro rockets had fired for just two to three seconds instead of 29. It was also thought to have jettisoned its parachute too early.

Artists depiction of boosters being used by probe
It is believed the probe's rockets used for landing did not deploy properly (ESA/PA)

The ESA's last attempt to land on Mars was in 2003, with Beagle 2, which never sent a signal from the surface.