Beagle 2 Spacecraft Has Been Found Intact On Mars, 11 Years After It Landed

Scientists had presumed the spacecraft lost after they did not receive any signal from it on Christmas day 2003.

1. Ill-fated Mars mission Beagle 2 has been found on the red planet, apparently intact.

HiRISE/NASA/Leicester / Via esa.int

Images taken from orbit show the spacecraft in one piece, close to the planned landing site, scientists announced this morning. The probe “successfully landed” on Mars, but only “partially deployed”, CEO of the UK Space Agency David Parker said in a press conference.

2. It was found 5km from the centre of the expected landing area.

University of Leicester/ Beagle 2/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The spacecraft is less than 2m across, just big enough to be seen by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

3. It appears that the final solar panel on the spacecraft did not open.

This meant that the antenna was not exposed, stopping Beagle 2 communicating with scientists back on Earth.

4. Beagle 2 was due to touch down on Mars on Christmas Day 2003, but scientists lost contact with it.

PA / Beagle2

The UK-led spacecraft was supposed to land in a region of the planet known as Isidis Planitia, a giant plain in an impact basin near the equator, where it would have searched for signs of past or present life.

5. But the expected time of landing came and went, and we never heard the call sign Beagle 2 was supposed to send back.

In a report released the following year, scientists said they thought the atmosphere was thinner than they had planned for resulting in the rover travelling too fast as it approached the surface of the planet, with what they presumed were disastrous consequences.

6. Some scientists remained hopeful that the spacecraft was intact. Dr Mark Sims, a scientist working on the Beagle 2 project, told the BBC at the time:


My nightmare is that Beagle is sat there on the surface of Mars still trying to talk to us and, for the sake of a broken cable, it’s not.

7. Now it seems the spacecraft did successfully land after all, and it was only then that things went wrong.

8. The finding is bittersweet for some, as principal investigator on the mission Colin Pillinger died last year without finding out the fate of his spacecraft.

A heartfelt salute to Colin Pillinger and Beagle 2 for getting so close.

— Dr Adam Rutherford (@AdamRutherford)

Utterly incredible to see that the #Beagle2 has finally been found on Mars. Sad that Prof Colin Pillinger isn't alive to see this.

— Myleene Klass (@KlassMyleene)

Colin Pillinger's Son, Nick, says his football fan dad would have said that ~beagle2 didn't so much as miss the goal - but hit the crossbar

— Pallab Ghosh (@BBCPallab)

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Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
 
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