A British Mars lander that was lost on its way to the red planet more than a decade ago may have been spotted by an orbiting spacecraft.
The Beagle 2 lander was supposed to touch down on Christmas day in 2003, but after it was released from its mothership, Mars Express, the dustbin-lid-sized craft was never heard from again.
But Beagle 2’s final resting place may finally have been discovered. Scientists operating the HiRise camera on Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will take part in a press conference this Friday to announce “an update” on the ill-fated mission.
The HiRise camera is the only camera in Mars orbit that can image the surface in high enough detail to spot missing spacecraft. The HiRise team has already found the twin Viking landers which touched down on Mars in the 1970s and photographed Nasa’s Phoenix, Curiosity and Opportunity rovers. They have been actively hunting for Beagle 2 for several years.
“HiRise is the only camera at Mars that can see former spacecraft like Beagle 2. It’s definitely pretty close to its intended landing spot, no matter what. It entered the atmosphere at the right time and place,” said Shane Byrne, a scientist on the HiRise team at the University of Arizona. He said the team has been asked to keep more details of the announcement under wraps.
Built on a shoestring budget, Beagle 2 was meant to announce its arrival on Mars by playing a musical call sign written by the Britpop band Blur. But despite astronomers listening for the lander’s signature tune with some of the most sophisticated receivers on Earth, all they heard was silence.
Led by the late planetary scientist, Colin Pillinger at the Open University, Beagle 2 was designed to look for signs of life on Mars and carried a drilling instrument to poke beneath the surface. Its release from the European Space Agency’s orbiter, Mars Express, went smoothly, placing Beagle 2 on course for a landing site at Isidis Planitia, a huge plain near the Martian equator.