New Year’s Resolution: Find the Mars Polar Lander

by Nancy Atkinson on December 31, 2009

Could the Mars Polar Lander's remains be hidden somewhere in this HiRISE image?


Finding hidden treasure would be a great way to start the new year, don’t you think? And somewhere in this patterned landscape the remains of a missing spacecraft could be hidden, just waiting to be found. The Mars Polar Lander arrived at the Red Planet 10 years ago in December of 1999, but just before the lander entered the Martian atmosphere, MPL went silent. An immediate search began for the remains of the MPL using images from Mars Global Surveyor, and now the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is continuing the search with high resolution images of the area in which MPL is most likely to have landed. The image here is another image in a series of images from HiRISE to look for MPL.

Investigations propose the most likely cause of the mission failure is that the spacecraft’s computers misinterpreted the release of the lander’s legs in preparation for descent as touch-down on the Martian surface, causing descent engines to shut off when the lander was still 40 meters (130 feet) above ground. However, no one knows for sure.

Find higher resolution images of this region here. See our previous articles about finding MPL — with additional images — here, and here.

See this page from the HiRISE site for a links to all the images. On this page, you’ll find an overview of the Mars Polar Lander, its disappearance, the search to find it, and why they want to find it. Emily also has a lengthy post with tips and instructions on how to search for particular objects in the HiRISE images. If you think you have found something of interest, post a comment on this page of the HiRISE Blog, or use this form to contact the HiRISE team. The UnmannedSpaceflight website has a thread discussing the search (serious searchers only).

Good luck!

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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