Remember Great Britain's Beagle Mars lander that supposedly crashed on Mars, ending that country's one and only interplanetary surface space probe to another solar system planet? The story at the time was that the lander lost contact with the orbiting European Space Agency satellite, crashed into the planet, and that was that. At the time of course there were all sorts of "conspiracy theories," or rather to be more accurate, speculations that the lander may actually have successfully landed, and the good folks in Dusseldorff were simply keeping a tight lid on whatever the Beagle was sniffing out on the surface of Mars.
Well, guess what, the scientist in charge of Britain's Mars lander, Professor of Astrobiology and Space Instrumentation at the University of Leicester, has led a team analyzing the crash site, according to this article shared by Mr. T.M. and authored by Mr. David Szondy, and they've come to a rather astonishing conclusion:
According to British studies of the crash site, it now appears that the lander successfully landed and deployed, and began its programmed task of sniffing out the surface of Mars:
One of the mysteries of Mars exploration may have been solved. Scientists at the University of Leicester and De Montfort University have used a new imaging technique based on 3D modeling technology to uncover the fate of Britain's Beagle 2 lander. According to the team, the unmanned probe didn't crash, but landed successfully and became operational, though its radio antenna failed to deploy correctly.
As the article notes, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) photographed the crash site, and initial analysis suggested that only two of the lander's solar power panels deployed correctly, meaning that the lander was in effect non-operational.
However, the British team analyzing the images has come to a very different conclusion, one that - as you might expect - leads me to indulge in all sorts of interplanetary high octane speculation:
According to Professor Mark Sims, former Beagle 2 Mission Manager and Professor of Astrobiology and Space Instrumentation at the University of Leicester, that explanation needs some major revision. Using a new imaging technique called "reflection analysis," his team took a fresh look at Beagle 2 and concluded that it did, in fact, land safely, that it deployed three or even all four of its solar panels, and very likely started to explore the planet.
This has led the team analyzing the images to advance the following speculations:
According to Sims, exactly what happened to Beagle 2 may never be known, but the likely explanation is something went wrong with the radio antenna used to connect the lander with Mars Express. Either one of the solar panels didn't deploy and the antenna was trapped, or the panel didn't deploy properly and interfered with the antenna – a bit like those cabinets where you have to close the doors in a particular sequence or they won't fit properly.
One intriguing point is that if three or all of the solar panels deployed, Beagle 2 would have had enough power to activate and carry out its task of seeking life on the Red Planet, and may even be operating today.
But in a situation where the lander "may even be operating today" one speculation is as good as another, which brings me to my high octane speculation of the day: what if the entire story of a crash and the lander's inoperability is just that, a story, and the little Beagle has been dutifully sending back its data ever since, only that that data has been deliberately embargoed from public release, and kept secret? Of course, Professor Sims doubts that it is still operating, but Mars, as Carl Sagan used to say, is "full of surprises." Such a scenario wouldn't be the first time various space agencies have embargoed certain information from Mars, or obfuscated its data (it isn't a Face, don't you know, it's just a trick of light and shadow. After all, more recent imaging simply shows a highly degraded mesa. But of course, lower resolution actually reveals the shape it degraded from. ) After all, even those old NASA Viking probes uncovered data suggestive of simple life, data that is still being debated (and in some cases, hotly debated). If this highly speculative scenario is actually the case, then it would seem at least to fit into a wider pattern, a pattern which admittedly also includes a high number of mission failures to the mysterious planet(Phobos II and Phobos Grunt, anyone?).
See you on the flip side...