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Friday, May 06, 2005

Wreck of Mars Polar Lander Found

The Mars Polar Lander was scheduled to touch down at the south pole of the Red Planet on Dec. 3, 1999. But after the craft entered the Martian atmosphere, it was never heard from again.

A visual search by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor for any sign of the doomed craft turned up nothing. But now, a scientist who re-examined some pictures thinks he may have spotted the wreckage of the lost Polar Lander.

Michael Malin, president and chief scientist at Malin Space Science Systems (which operates the Global Surveyor's cameras), found among the grainy images a white patch that could be a discarded parachute, and a dark patch that could be a rocket blast. In the middle of the dark patch is a white dot, which could be the lander itself. Malin's findings are published in the latest issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

If Malin's observations are correct, they would support NASA's theory of why the Polar Lander crashed. NASA believes that during the descent, braking rockets shut off prematurely, causing the craft to go into a 130-foot free fall.

Source: CNN.com