Mars lander exploded after crashing into planet, images suggest

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European Mars lander Schiaparelli has smashed into the Red Planet and exploded, dramatic 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.

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 300 km/h (186 mph).

A statement from the European Space Agency said: "It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full.

"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 jettisonedĀ its parachute too early.