Sat, Dec 27, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Scientists wait to hear from Mars

ALL QUIET The Beagle 2 that landed on Mars is yet to broadcast a signal, but scientists are confident that the European lander is intact and will make contact soon


This recent picture released by the European Space Agency (ESA) shows an artist's view of the Beagle 2 lander (upper right) leaving the Mars Express orbiter.


Scientists waited in vain for the European Mars lander Beagle 2 to send word that it had survived a landing on the Red Planet.

The tiny craft, designed to search for signs of life on Mars, is believed to have landed shortly before 0300GMT on Thursday, its impact softened by parachutes and gas bags.

An early effort -- by the US Mars Odyssey orbiter -- to pick up a signal from the Beagle failed, but scientists said they remained optimistic that many further opportunities would bring communication with the lander.

Officials said the 67kg Beagle -- about the size of a car tire -- could have landed with its antenna pointing at the wrong angle for Odyssey, or the Martian cold could have distorted the radio frequency it emits.

Late on Thursday, scientists at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, England, scanned the Martian surface with a huge radio telescope between 2200GMT and 2400GMT, but received no transmission, the British physics and astronomy research agency said.

"Jodrell Bank listened out for Beagle 2 tonight, but did not detect a transmission. The next opportunity will be via Mars Odyssey at 1815 GMT today [yesterday]," the agency said in a statement.

In addition to Odyssey, there soon will be a chance for the Beagle's companion ship, the Mars Express, to communicate with the lander.

The Mars Express, which carried the Beagle into space and set it loose a week ago to head toward the Martian surface, went into orbit around Mars on Thursday, a crucial success for the European Space Agency's project.

The Mars Express is designed to beam back data gathered by Beagle on the surface, as well as to map the Martian surface and search for water with a powerful radar that can scan several kilometers underground.

In the coming days, controllers must change the orbit of Mars Express from a high elliptical one around the equator to a lower polar orbit that will let it cover more of the surface with its instruments.

There have been only three successful Mars landings -- all of them American. If Europe's Beagle can begin sending data, it will rank as the fourth success.

Two US Viking spacecraft made it in 1976, while NASA's Mars Pathfinder and its rover vehicle Sojourner reached the surface in 1997.

Several vehicles, most recently NASA's 1999 Mars Polar Lander, have been lost on landing. The Soviet Mars-3 lander made a soft landing in 1970 but failed after sending data for only 20 seconds.

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