The picture was taken during the martian day, with the sun almost directly to the rear of MRO. MRO was orbiting at an altitude of 300 kilometers, but Phoenix was 760 kilometers away. It was because of this oblique view — MRO looking through miles and miles of hazy atmosphere — that the surface appears dark, fuzzy and streaky, said HiRise PI Alfred McEwen in Tucson. But the white of the parachute, lander backshell, and cords connecting the two was plenty bright enough for HiRise to detect. â€œSeeing the cords connecting the two, it’s completely unambiguous,â€ McEwen said.
It appears that the argument which clinched the case for trying to get this photo was that an image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter could tell whether or not the parachute deployed as it should. If the MRO had seen a working parachute but the landing had failed, then whatever botched the landing must have occurred elsewhere. Happily, however, the landing went as planned.