Weak signal detected from Mars might be unlucky Polar Lander

February 02, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Scientists from around the world are rotating arrays of radio telescopes toward Mars in an effort to confirm that a weak, mysterious signal -- about the strength of a cell phone call -- has been received from the $165 million Mars Polar Lander.

"We are continuing to review the data," Mary Hardin, a spokeswoman for NASA's suddenly rejuvenated Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said yesterday. "In the meantime, we are using radio telescopes in England, Italy and the Netherlands to help us listen."

"The data" refers to an unusual signal deeply embedded in the static normally received from space. Reviewing information harvested by a radio telescope in December and January, scientists at Stanford University recently detected the signal.

Though hope for the Polar Lander was given up Jan. 17, more than a month after it disappeared as it approached Mars, other scientists have joined the hunt.

Their new dream: Polar Lander survived its long voyage after all, validating their work, but perhaps tumbled into a ravine or some other unfortunate location.

The probe was bound on a 90-day mission to study the planet's climate and search for frozen water near the south pole. It was the second NASA Mars mission to disappear in three months.

The worldwide array of antennas will be listening again Friday.

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