NASA spots the Mars lander lost for a decade

It was the little space explorer that astronomers forgot, the Beagle 2 Mars Lander that went silent back in 2003 and has never spoken up since, but thanks to NASA's eye-in-the-sky has now been found again. Scientists at the European Space Agency had resigned themselves to never knowing the fate of Beagle 2, which landed on the red planet as part of the Mars Express mission but then failed to respond after touchdown on December 25, 2003. New shots from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, however, have revealed the final resting place of the lander, as well as tantalizing details about quite how far into its mission it actually made it.

Thanks to a trio of passes by the orbiting photography platform, scientists now believe Beagle 2 actually made it partway through deploying the solar arrays that would have powered its academic pursuits.

The hunt was made more difficult by the relatively tiny size of the lander. At less than seven feet across when deployed, it's right at the resolution limits of what the HiRISE camera on the Reconnaissance Orbiter can actually make out.

As a result, it took several passes to figure out what exactly was being seen. In total, shots from three passes were combined, and then the shapes observed compared to what Beagle 2 could resemble from above.

Still, it's close enough for the Jet Propulsion Lab team to call it a match.

"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. The images show that we came so close to achieving the goal of science on Mars" Mark Sims, Beagle 2 project, University of Leicester, UK

While it may have been discovered, however, exactly what went wrong with Beagle 2 is still a relative mystery.

The lander made it down within the area intended, and clearly managed to at least partially set itself up. Also visible are what are believed to be the parachute and Beagle 2's rear cover.

Since the ESA Mars Express mission, of course, NASA has successfully taken a number of rovers to the planet, two of which are still operational today.

Opportunity made it to the red planet in 2004, not long after the failure of Beagle 2, while Curiosity has beamed back a number of high-profile discoveries since its own landing in mid-2012.