Soviet Spacecraft Possibly Spotted On Mars [Photo]

A Soviet spacecraft may have been spotted on Mars by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Space fans from Russia scanned NASA images to discover the spacecraft’s remains.

The craft landed on Mars in 1971, but mysteriously stopped working. The craft, Mars 3, worked for just 15 seconds before it stopped communications.

It was part of a double mission launched by the Soviet Union in 1971. Mars 3’s twin craft, Mars 2, crashed on arrival at the Red Planet.

Photos by NASA’s MRO appear to show the Mars 3 lander and its parachute, heat shield, and other hardware. It jettisoned the majority of its hardware while landing.

The Russian space fan group has followed the Curiosity rover, NASA’s latest project on Mars. At the group’s request, NASA flew the MRO over an area earlier this year that was thought to be the Mars 3 craft’s landing spot. The resulting pictures show features consistent with a spacecraft landing.

But scientists have cautioned the group not to guarantee the find yet. The formations discovered in pictures could simply be rocks or other geological formations. There are plans to talk to Russian engineers about the mission and take more pictures of the Soviet spacecraft’s suspected landing spot.

Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona also cautioned that enthusiasts for the Mars 3 mission may never receive definitive answers. McEwen is in charge of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s camera. The orbiter was able to locate the parachute, rocket stage, and cables that the Curiosity rover cast off during its dramatic touch down on Mars last August.

The car-sized robot touched down inside the Gale Crater last year. But in that case, engineers knew exactly where the rover would land. That knowledge helped them pinpoint possible sites for its cast-off equipment.

Scientists hope that their talks with Russian engineers who worked on the project will help them confirm where the Soviet spacecraft landed more than 40 years ago.

[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona]