AFP

LONDON

A British-built probe which vanished 11 years ago has been found on the surface of Mars, scientists said on Friday, solving an enduring mystery of space exploration.

Joy at the discovery was tinged with sadness that it came a year after the death of Professor Colin Pillinger, the eccentric but brilliant driving force behind the 2003 mission. Pillinger, whose mutton-chop sideburns helped make him one of Britain’s favourite mad scientist figures, raised much of the money for the launch himself and died frustrated at the lack of support for a follow-up mission.

‘Thomas Edison developed 50 ways of not making a working light bulb before he created the thing for which he’s remembered,’ Pillinger told his hometown newspaper, the Bristol Post, in 2012. ‘If we’d turned around immediately and said we’ll give it another shot, we could have men on their way to Mars by now.’ The Beagle 2 was a £50 million (65 million euros, $76 million) mission to establish whether there was, or had ever been, life on Mars but it was lost without trace on December 26, 2003.  The probe was detected during an analysis of images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) last year but scientists said it would now be impossible to retrieve the data which it gathered. ‘What we can say with some confidence today is that Beagle 2 is no longer lost and furthermore it seems we are not looking at a crash site.’