The Beagle 2 Mars lander, once thought lost to the Martian dust, has been ‘sniffed out’ by US space agency NASA’s hi-res imaging satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
The first possibility that the lander may have been discovered came last Tuesday after NASA alerted members of the press and astronomers to an announcement that was to be made regarding the British lander’s fate.
While it was known the craft had entered the Martian atmosphere on 25 December 2003 to carry out its job of searching for signs of life on Mars, it never returned any form of communication with headquarters back on Earth and was believed to have been obliterated on entry.
However, the images that were returned by the MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera have shown that the mission was not a complete failure, at least from an engineering perspective, as the Beagle 2’s solar panels did in fact deploy, with what may be its parachute visible to the camera.
An annotated image of the Beagle 2 landing site. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Leicester
Some much-needed closure
The image was extensively analysed and inspected as to whether it was indeed the craft and not an optical illusion. It was eventually concluded to be the craft, despite it being at the limit of HiRiSE’s imaging capability.
From both NASA’s perspective those involved with the Beagle 2 project, including its lead, Colin Pillinger, the finding brings some much-needed closure.
Mark Sims of the University of Leicester, who was Beagle 2’s mission manager, said he is delighted Beagle 2 has finally been found on Mars.
“Every Christmas Day since 2003 I have wondered what happened to Beagle 2,” Sims said.
“My Christmas Day in 2003 alongside many others who worked on Beagle 2 was ruined by the disappointment of not receiving data from the surface of Mars. To be frank, I had all but given up hope of ever knowing what happened to Beagle 2.”