New high resolution images of the Martian surface are shedding light on the mysterious fate of a Mars lander that went dark more than a decade ago.
The United Kingdom's Beagle 2 Mars Lander went silent while making a descent to the Red Planet's surface on Christmas Day in 2003 and was thought to be lost until now.
With images taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have found evidence that Beagle 2 landed on the surface after all and survived its initial touchdown to at least partially deploy its solar arrays.
"I am delighted that Beagle 2 has finally been found on Mars," Professor of the University of Leicester U.K. and Mission Manager Mark Sims said in a statement.
Sims, who led the initial study phase, was an integral part of the Beagle 2 project from its start, according to the UK Space Agency.
The images, which depict the correct size, shape, color and dispersion of Beagle 2, according to NASA, were captured with the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera and have help solve the mystery that has troubled Sims for years.
"Every Christmas Day since 2003 I have wondered what happened to Beagle 2," Sims said. "My Christmas Day in 2003 alongside many others who worked on Beagle 2 was ruined by the disappointment of not receiving data from the surface of Mars. To be frank, I had all but given up hope of ever knowing what happened to Beagle 2."
After an analysis and re-imaging of the target by NASA and the Beagle 2 team, the evidence indicates that a partially deployed configuration of the craft is likely the cause which prevented it from transmitting information after successfully landing.
"This would explain why no signal or data was received from the lander - as full deployment of all solar panels was needed to expose the RF antenna which would transmit data and receive commands from Earth," according to the agency's statement.
Beagle 2 hitched a ride to the Red Planet on the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission and was the result of a collaboration between industry and academia, according to the agency. If the craft had been successful, it would have transmitted "world-class science" from the Martian surface.
"The highly complex entry, descent and landing sequence seems to have worked perfectly and only during the final phases of deployment did Beagle 2 unfortunately run into problems," Sims said. "It was a great pity we couldn't have delivered the world-class science Beagle 2 may have brought and even sadder that Colin (Pillinger) and other colleagues, who died in 2014, didn't live to see the discovery that Beagle 2 made it to Mars. "
According to Richard Zurek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, searching for missing craft of Mars is an extremely difficult task due to their small size and the large surface area that must be covered.
"It takes the best camera we have in Mars' orbit and work by dedicated individuals to be successful at this," he said in a statement.
(YouTube/University of Leicester)