Amateurs Find Mars Lander Lost 42 Years Ago

Team may have located Russian lander missing since 1971

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 15, 2013 1:54 PM CDT | Updated Apr 21, 2013 9:57 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Mars 3, a Soviet lander, went missing back in 1971 after performing the first soft landing on Mars. It operated for 15 seconds, failed, and eventually came to rest ... somewhere. The exact location was unknown, thanks to radio communications that were disabled, possibly thanks to a dust storm. But a team of amateur researchers may have found the lander, Scientific American reports. They studied images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, taken in 2007, and spotted something that could be the Mars 3—plus objects that could be its descent module, heat shield, and the parachute, all nearby and in the expected landing area inside Ptolemaeus Crater.

Another photo of the same area on the Red Planet's surface, taken by the NASA orbiter in March, backs up the Russian team's case, but they'll continue studying the pictures to confirm the finding. It's the first visible evidence of the lander in 41 years, Discovery News reports. The team of researchers was "crowdsourced" on the Internet in a campaign organized by Russian space enthusiasts. The founder of the group made scale models of the Mars 3 hardware, then looked through the images for features that matched. “Together, this set of features and their layout on the ground provide a remarkable match, but alternative explanations cannot be ruled out,” he says.

This image released by NASA shows a set of pictures taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing what may be parts of a Soviet spacecraft that landed on Mars in 1971.   (AP Photo/NASA)
This Aug. 26, 2003 image made available by NASA shows Mars photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope on the planet's closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years.   (AP Photo/NASA)
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