Lost Soviet Mars Lander Found?

Nearly 42 years after it landed and mysteriously died on the Red Planet, a Russian spacecraft’s final resting place may have been found thanks to the keen-eyes of an online Russian community of Mars fans, according to a NASA statement this week..

Poring over hi-resolution  images of the landing region snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) a few years back, citizen scientists spotted what looked suspiciously like hardware from the old Soviet Mars 3 lander.  Based on the  evidence found through this crowdsourcing initiative, a follow-up image was requested and sure enough intriguing details are visible in the new scene

“I wanted to attract people’s attention to the fact that Mars exploration today is available to practically anyone,”  said Vitali Egorov, the leader of a Russian web-based community for Curiosity rover mission,  in a statement. “At the same time we were able to connect with the history of our country, which we were reminded of after many years through the images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.”

An old photo of the Mars 3 lander from NASA archives. Credit: NASA


Twin probes,  Mars 2 and Mars 3 were both launched in 1971 in the hopes of making a soft landing  and sending back first images from the planet’s surface. While Mars 2 crashed on November 27, 1971 , its twin, Mars 3, appeared  to make a successful touchdown a week later.

While it did become the first human spacecraft to survive a Martian landing, after less than 20 seconds of transmitting a signal to Earth it fell silent, never to be heard from again.

This set of  images from   NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showcases parts of what may be an old Soviet lander that touched down on Mars in 1971. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
This set of images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showcases parts of what may be an old Soviet lander that touched down on Mars in 1971. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


NASA is saying that further analysis needs to be done before confirmation can be made that it is indeed the old Russian lander, but the evidence is pretty compelling. Along with the lander itself, what looks like it’s heat shield and parachute can be seen lying on the floor of the 168 km wide Ptolemaeus Crater, located in the planet’s southern hemisphere.

“Together, this set of features and their layout on the ground provide a remarkable match to what is expected from the Mars 3 landing, but alternative explanations for the features cannot be ruled out,” said MRO imaging team leader Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson in a statement.

“Further analysis of the data and future images to better understand the three-dimensional shapes may help to confirm this interpretation.”

Just last week NASA announced that the same Mars satellite (MRO),  had spied  the Curiosity rover’s landing parachute flapping in the wind since drifting to the ground on August 5, 2012.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.