A British-built Mars probe called Beagle 2, which was last heard from in 2003, has been found on the surface of the red planet. The spacecraft was spotted in imagery from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
This is huge news for planetary scientists involved in the project, who had long since given up hope of finding Beagle 2. The probe, about the size of a large dustbin lid, had gone missing on Christmas Day 2003, and many observers had believed it had simply not survived the descent from ESA’s Mars Express satellite down to the surface.
But the photo shows that Beagle2 did manage to slow down enough through the tenuous atmosphere of our planetary neighbor to touch down and partially deploy its petal-like solar panels.
The image appears to show that the main parachute and rear cover are still attached close by.
The probe won’t be able to be ‘woken-up’ again, however, but finding it does bring huge satisfaction to the industrial and science teams who built it.
It’s also a further morale boost for the field for planetary exploration in Europe, as the European Space Agency prepares to launch the first of the ExoMars missions to Mars next year, and to land a full-sized rover capable of drilling deep below the surface in 2018.
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