June 29, 2017
Beagle 2: Mars Orbiter May Have Discovered Lost Probe

Beagle 2, a probe lost on its way to Mars over a decade ago, may have finally been spotted by a NASA camera orbiting the red planet.

As CNET notes, the Beagle 2 lander was released from an orbiter called Mars Express on December 19, 2003, before plunging through the Martian atmosphere on Christmas Day for an intended landing. The probe was lost, never to be heard from again, yet now there is reason to believe that its final resting place on Mars has been uncovered.

Later this week, NASA scientists who operate the HiRise camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will take part in a press conference, according to the Guardian, intended to reveal new information about the Beagle 2 probe. The HiRise camera is currently the only imaging sensor in orbit around Mars that can spot objects as small as the missing spacecraft.

NASA has been actively hunting for Beagle 2, which was a part of the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission, for several years. In that time, HiRise has managed to photograph several other probes, including the two Viking landers from the 1970s as well as NASA's Phoenix, Curiosity, and Opportunity rovers.

Roughly the size of a trash can lid, Beagle 2 was meant to search for signs of life on Mars. The work of the late planetary scientist Colin Pillinger, the probe was set to touch down on Isidis Planitia, a huge plain near the Martian equator, and was equipped with a drill to cut into the surface of Mars. Beagle 2 was programmed to announce its arrival on the planet with a musical call sign written by the Britpop band Blur, though scientists were never able to detect the signal.NASA's rovers on Mars have spotted a number of objects that have enticed those looking for signs of life on the red planet, as the Inquisitr has previously reported. The HiRise camera, however, is able to record formations as small as 5cm on the surface of Mars, using a new technique that overlaps images.

According to one scientist who declined to be named ahead of the press conference, the fate of Beagle 2 would be of particular interest to those planning future landings.

"Whatever happens with space missions, there are always lessons to be learned for future missions... Anything about Beagle 2 would be useful in terms of narrowing down exactly what did go wrong."
The update on Beagle 2, and possibly the probe's fate on Mars, will be announced this Friday.

[Image via NASA]