Topical News. Microscopes to Mars

A selection of links to web resources on the current NASA and ESA missions to Mars which include microscopes on their surface probes.

June 2003


The continuing unmanned missions to explore our solar system attract a lot of interest, especially the Mars missions with the tantalising hope that definitive evidence of life past and/or present on the Red Planet may be found.

June 2003 sees a spate of activity launching Mars missions, apparently because of the very favourable alignment of Earth and Mars.

The Mars missions that are being launched in June 2003 may be of particular interest to microscopy enthusiasts because the ESA and NASA missions have specially designed microscopes on board as part of their scientific instrument packages ... the first microscopes to be sent off planet Earth!

Below is a selection of resources to these NASA and ESA missions with particular reference to the design, capabilities, example test images and anticipated roles of the microscopes in the respective missions.

All being well, when the surface probes start to explore the Mars surface, links to further resources will be added and hopefully links to websites displaying the first 'off-Earth' photomicrographs!

European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express mission with Beagle 2 lander
The European Space Agency's Mars Express is currently on its way to Mars. It was successfully launched from Kazakhstan on June 2nd, 2003 and its safe arrival is anticipated at the end of 2003.

The Beagle 2 lander forms an important part of the mission together with the Mars Express Orbiter. If all goes to schedule, the Beagle 2 shoud land on Christmas Day! One of the high tech instruments carried by the stationary lander is a specially designed microscope.

Clickable image to 'Beagle 2' web site: The British led Mars lander project web site. (Link image © and courtesy of 'Beagle 2'

European Space Agency (ESA): Beagle 2 - the lander - Overview of the lander's mission to search for past or present evidence of life on Mars.

Max Planck Institute für Aeronomie (MPAE):
Beagle 2 Microscope Site - Details of the CCD microscope design and capabilities.

The Microscope for Beagle 2 - online slide presentation by Nicolas Thomas, project leader for the Beagle 2 microscope. Includes close-ups of the microscope and its construction.

Lunar and Planetary Lab, University of Arizona: The MAGI Group - Beagle 2 Page. Mars Atmosphere and Geology Imaging - Details of  the optical head and LED illumination with example images taken using a prototype of the microscope.

BBC Radio 4: Small dog on Mars - a delightful recently broadcast radio program available to listen to online. Describes the development of the Beagle 2 lander and the people involved.

NASA / JPL Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) 
Two identical surface rovers are being launched to Mars as part of this mission and are described as 'robot geologists' which are 'in search of answers about the history of water on Mars' (first link below). One of the high tech instruments carried by each rover is a specially designed Microscopic Imager (MI).

NASA / JPL: Mars Exploration Rover Mission - The home page of the mission with links to in-depth information on all its aspects.

Cornell. Athena Mars Exploration Rovers: Instruments - Microscopic Imager - Detail of the imager, including example image and downloadable technical briefing. One of a suite of pages with informative links to various aspects of the mission.

United States Geological Survey (USGS). Astrogeology Research Program: Mars Exploration Rovers Project. Microscopic Imager - Technical details and role of the instrument. Also photographs of the instrument and test images of rocks and meteorites taken on Earth. 

JPL/NASA: Mars Environmental Compatibility Assessment (MECA) - A longer term project. This will include microscopical studies intended for a cancelled earlier mission.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the personnel involved with these exciting projects who have made available an excellent range of resources.


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June 2003 Micscape Magazine.
Links compiled by David Walker (microscopy enthusiast). Notification of any errors in the compilation
or links to other resources of interest would be appreciated.

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