SCIENTISTS at Jodrell Bank have failed in their final attempt to make contact with the Beagle 2 space probe.
The Cheshire observatory has been poised to receive a signal from the probe since it landed on Mars in the early hours of Christmas Day.
However, the Red Planet moved out of range yesterday so the astronomers have been forced to abandon their attempts.
Ian Morison, leader of the Jodrell Bank team, said he was disappointed the operation had not been successful.
He said: "It has all been a bit forlorn and a bit sad for us.
"I would love to be able to say that we picked up the signal and proved that the Beagle 2 is alive but that's not possible.
"Sadly, as Mars rotates a little bit slower than Earth, we will not be in a position to see the probe's landing site for a week or so.
"Hopefully, the signal will still be picked up but I'm afraid I can't be as optimistic about it as I'd like to be."
The first opportunity for Jodrell Bank to receive a signal from the probe was at 10.45pm on Christmas morning when a tune, specially written by Britpop band Blur, should have been transmitted.
At five watts, the transmitter would have been little more powerful than a mobile phone.
A new receiver, thought to be the most powerful in the world, was installed on the Lovell Telescope ready to pick up the weak signal.
Jodrell Bank recorded observations from 6pm, when the landing site came into view on the Martian surface, until midnight but no contact was made.
Mr Morison said: "In case the clock on the Beagle 2 is in error and the signal was not being transmitted at the correct time, the telescope made observations for the whole time that the landing site was visible."
The telescope again failed to pick up a signal on Boxing Day and on Saturday.
The final opportunity was on Sunday night but nothing was received.
Giant radio telescopes worldwide began vainly searching the skies for contact with the probe.
Further attempts to get a signal from Mars orbiter Odyssey proved fruitless.
A technical problem prevented scientists using the super-sensitive Stanford University radio telescope in California as planned and scientists also said technical problems raised a question mark over recruiting a radio telescope in Australia.
Beagle 2's controllers are now pinning their hopes on the probe's mother ship Mars Express making contact after it starts operating on January 4.
By then Beagle 2 will have gone into an emergency mode, which causes it to transmit signals more frequently.
After January 6, Mars should be in a position for Jodrell Bank to be able to pick up Beagle's signal if it is being transmitted.
When Beagle 2 separated from Mars Express on December 19 it was set to become the first European spacecraft to land on another planet.
During its 180-day mission it was programmed to test rock, soil and air samples for signs of past or present life on Mars.
CRATER MAY BE AT THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM >>>
CRATER MAY BE AT THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM
BEAGLE 2 may be stranded within a crater scientists have just discovered in the middle of its landing site on Mars.
The 1km-wide crater, which could be hundreds of metres deep, lies like a bullseye at the centre of the 70km by 10km target area on Isidis Planitia near the Martian equator.
It was only revealed by close-up pictures of the site taken by the Nasa orbiter Mars Global Surveyor minutes after the British probe was supposed to have landed on Christmas Day.
But scientists said it would be "incredibly unlucky" if Beagle 2 had hit the crater, the existence of which was not known when the mission was planned.
They chose the landing site - a flat, low-lying basin - to minimise natural hazards. However, no area is without risk, and craters are scattered all over the Red Planet.
Landing inside or on the rim of the crater would pose serious hazards for the tiny disc-shaped lander, no bigger than a motorbike wheel.
The crater at the heart of the landing site is comparable in size to Meteor Crater, a andmark in Arizona which spans 1.2 km.
How an echo led to Jodrell Bank >>>
How an echo led to Jodrell Bank
DURING World War II, a Manchester-based scientist was studying radar systems when he made a curious discovery.
Dr Bernard Lovell noticed that the primitive systems were detecting sporadic echoes which he thought could be caused by the passage of a cosmic ray particle through the atmosphere.
When the war ended, he bought some army radar equipment but he soon found they were affected by the sound of the Manchester trams and forced to seek another site for his work.
The observatory at Jodrell Bank, on the Cheshire plain named after local landowners the Jaudrell family, made its first observations in the middle of December 1945.
It soon became apparent that the sporadic echoes were really caused by the plasma trail of a meteor as it burns up in the atmosphere. Over the next 60 years, scientists there made many discoveries that would change the way we look at space.
A 218ft telescope was built in an adjoining field in the late 1940s that could be swung to scan different parts of the sky.
It was used in the detection of radio noise from the Great Nebula in Andromeda - the first time that a known extra-galactic radio source had been detected.
A second telescope, the Mk1, was completed in 1957 and, at 250ft, it was the world's first giant radio telescope.
Further upgraded telescopes were built over the following 50 years culminating with the upgrade last year of the Lovell Telescope completed last year. The surface of the dish, which was badly corroded, was replaced at a cost of more than £2m.