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Dogged Beagle 2 probe found on Mars after a decade of mystery

Photos from orbit show the plucky probe landed right where it was supposed to.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
2 min read

This is what the Beagle 2 would have looked like if it had deployed correctly on the Martian surface, but now pictures show the solar panels failed to open properly. Beagle 2, all rights reserved

Beagle 2 is no longer lost in space. The tiny probe has been found after going missing on the surface of Mars over a decade ago -- and although it never made contact, the plucky craft is right where it's supposed to be.

Beagle 2 is a tiny probe developed by a UK-led European Space Agency team. It was carried to the red planet by the Mars Express orbiter and on Christmas Day 2003 plunged through the atmosphere of Mars -- only to promptly disappear.

But now NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the tiny craft, beaming back high-resolution images that show Beagle 2 not only landed smack in the centre of its targeted touchdown zone -- a mere 5km from the centre of the 500km by 100km target -- but is also apparently intact.

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However, the dustbin lid-sized probe's solar panels do not appear to have opened fully and are likely to be blocking the radio frequency antenna, preventing communication. Unfortunately that means there's no way of contacting and utilising the £50m device.

The Beagle 2 probe was intended to collect and analyse rocks and soil from the surface of Mars to seek out signs of life. The project was headed by British scientist Colin Pillinger, who enlisted rock band Blur to write a song that would signal the probe's successful landing. The song remains unheard and sadly Pillinger died last May.

The MRO's HiRise camera already spotted the twin Viking landers that touched down on Mars in the 1970s, and has captured snaps of other probes working on the surface such as Nasa's Phoenix, Curiosity and Opportunity rovers. Looking ahead, lessons from the failure of the Beagle 2 will be learned when the ESA returns to Mars in 2019 with the ExoMars rover.

It's been a big year for mucking about in space: the Orion spacecraft lifted off for the first time, NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons probe woke up after 1,873 days of sleep, and the ESA's Rosetta spacecraft rounded out a 10-year journey by successfully depositing the Philae lander on a comet speeding through space.