The WSRT search for missing Mars Polar Lander

Press Release From: Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy
Posted: Friday, January 28, 2000

NASA has asked the NFRA whether the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT) can help look for a sign of life from the missing Mars Polar Lander (MPL). The chance of detecting a signal is small because NASA thinks that the MPL only has a transmitter that was meant to communicate with the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). The Mars Global Surveyor is in an orbit of only a couple of hundred kilometres over Mars. Since communication between the MPL and MGS seems impossible we are trying to detect the signal directly on earth, where it could arrive 1 million x 1 million times weaker. WSRT is the most sensitive instrument in the world in the radio frequency in which people expect to be able to receive a possible signal. The 14 antennas at our disposal are well capable of detecting the difference between signals from earth and signals from space. WSRT is normally used to study natural radiation from galaxies and stars which is weaker still.

The measurements which were done during the past few days have been used to make an inventory of the earthly signals that might cause interference for this search. At this moment the WSRT has not yet found a signal that could possibly come from the MPL. Next week at the earliest, NASA will be able to send a command to Mars to tell the MPL to broadcast at known times. If and when the MPL is able to send a signal we at WSRT hope to be able to hear is.

NFRA/ASTRON - Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy
Dwingeloo, The Netherlands
Telephone (+31) 521 595 223 (Nanushka Csonka/Willem Baan)

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