Since it was deemed lost on Mars, we haven’t seen much of Beagle 2. The lander’s fate was a mystery until last year when a NASA orbiter found its parts scattered on the planet’s surface. But this week astronomers released the sharpest images yet of Beagle 2 using a technique that has potent zooming potential for future missions.
Back in 2003, Beagle 2 didn’t have a very good Christmas. Built by the United Kingdom and strapped to the Mars Express orbiter, it eagerly made its interplanetary journey to start a new life. But on Christmas, the day it was to land, it didn’t utter a peep to the European Space Agency. Researchers had given up hope on ever learning of what happened to Beagle 2 until NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sent back images last year that showed it had partially deployed.
Even with its sophisticated HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera, the lander was still very much a glob in the haystack of Mars’ dusty surface. That’s because even the largest telescopes that are launched are very constrained in how sharply they can see planetary surfaces. Getting higher resolution requires heavier optics and better bandwidth to send such huge pictures. Nowadays, the resolution limit for cameras around Earth and Mars is about 10 inches (or 25 centimeters).
In a study published in February, a new method can see objects five times better than before. To achieve this resolution, University College, London researchers stacked and matched pictures taken in certain areas of Mars from different angles. The process, named Super-Resolution Restoration (SRR), can suck out information from low-resolution pictures and be used to craft high-resolution composites. The research also revealed clearer images of Mars’ ancient lakebeds and NASA’s MER-A rover tracks.
“We now have the equivalent of drone-eye vision anywhere on the surface of Mars where there are enough clear repeat pictures,” study co-author Jan-Peter Muller said in a statement. “It allows us to see objects in much sharper focus from orbit than ever before and the picture quality is comparable to that obtained from landers.”
If applied to other missions, SSR could be a useful tool for mapping a planet for landing site selection, or even hone in on images of exoplanets and other objects outside of our solar system, the study notes.
Here are the before-and-after pictures: