Jul 23, 2019 | Updated: 09:13 AM EDT

Has NASA Found The Missing Beagle on Mars?

Jan 16, 2015 01:27 PM EST

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Beagle 2
(Photo : By Gavin Stewart (Beagle 2 at the Space Centre - Leicester) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

On December 19, 2003, a tiny craft was launched from the Mars Express, a craft orbiting Mars.  This craft was part of a British-led effort for the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission.  On Christmas day, the lander entered the Martian atmosphere traveling more than 20,000 kph, and then it was never heard from again.  Now NASA believes they have spotted the craft on the surface more than a decade after going dark.

NASA representatives involved with the HIRISE camera on NASA's Reconnaisance Orbiter will hold a conference this Friday to provide more updates about the Beagle 2 mission.

The speculation is that the camera, which can shoot images on the Martian surface of objects as small as 3 feet in diameter, has found the lost Beagle.  If true, it won't be the first craft it has found on the surface with the camera snapping pictures of the two Viking landers, which landed on their new Martian homes in 1976.

"HiRise is the only camera at Mars that can see former spacecraft like Beagle 2," researcher with the HiRISE team at the University of Arizona, Shane Byrne says. "It's definitely pretty close to its intended landing spot, no matter what. It entered the atmosphere at the right time and place." 

The goal of the Beagle 2 - named for the ship upon which Charles Darwin traveled and did research - was that it was going to "stick its devices right into Mars, sampling rocks and soil on the surface and below," according to a NASA report about the mission at the time.

It was going to accomplish this with two devices that were attached to its robotic arm - a mole that could dig into the surface and retrieve core samples, and a rock abrasion tool that could take interior samples from rocks.  The samples were then going to be brought back and cooked in the onboard oven so the mass spectrometer could analyze the gas in an effort to discover life on the planet.

Unfortunately, none of that came to pass as the Beagle 2 vanished on that faithful Christmas Day, never to be heard from again.  For over a decade what happened to the Beagle 2 has remained a mystery many scientists on the project hoped to solve.  If it has indeed been found, it will put to rest at least some of the theories about what happened to the craft, including one that states that the Beagle 2 simply burned up in the Martian atmosphere.

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