Old Soviet Mars 3 lander discovered?

Set of images showing possible hardware from the Mars 3 landing in 1971. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona
Set of images showing possible hardware from the Mars 3 landing in 1971. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

A “missing” Mars lander and its associated hardware from the 1970s may have finally been discovered in images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Soviet Mars 3 lander was the first successful landing on Mars by any spacecraft, but after transmitting for only 14.5 seconds after touchdown on December 2, 1971, it went silent and was never heard from again. Its exact landing site was unknown, but now may have finally been located after all these years.

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The winds still blow in thin but active Martian atmosphere

Mars’ atmosphere is much thinner now than it once was, but it still has clouds, as seen in this NASA photo, as well as fog, wind, dust storms, and snow. Credit: NASA / JPL
Mars’ atmosphere is much thinner now than it once was, but it still has clouds, as seen in this NASA photo, as well as fog, wind, dust storms and snow. Credit: NASA / JPL

For any future astronauts who land on Mars, there is one piece of advice that shouldn’t even need to be said: keep your helmet on! Mars has an atmosphere, like Earth, but it is much thinner than ours (and mostly carbon dioxide), and so is unbreathable by humans. However, evidence has continued to grow that Mars’ atmosphere was once a lot thicker than it is now, early on in the planet’s history. Recent findings from the Curiosity rover have added to that evidence, as well as showing not only how Mars has lost most of the atmosphere that it once had, but also that the atmosphere which remains is still very active.

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Follow the water? No, follow the Martian salt

The next direction for NASA, in terms of searching for life on Mars, might not be “follow the water” – it might be “follow the salt.” Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS

You may be familiar with the phrase “follow the water” when it comes to the search for life on Mars, and for good reason – any place on Earth where there is liquid water, there is life. So, logically, the best places to look for evidence of past or present life on Mars would be where there has been liquid water in the past (or perhaps even still is, underground). But now there is also another approach being taken, in terms of possible present-day habitability in particular: follow the salt.

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Has Curiosity found Martian rock varnish?

Before and after image of a rock lasered by Curiosity. The surface of the rock has darkened around the spot hit by the laser. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory
Before and after image of a rock lasered by Curiosity. The surface of the rock has darkened around the spot hit by the laser. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Scientists studying data from the Curiosity rover have found another interesting puzzle, one which may easily have gone unnoticed were it not for one diligent researcher in particular, it was announced last week at the 44th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas.

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Beautiful panorama of Mount Sharp from Curiosity rover

Natural colour version of the Mount Sharp panorama. See links below for full-size versions. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
Natural colour version of the Mount Sharp panorama. See links below for full-size versions.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

The Curiosity rover is continuing to recover from a couple of computer glitches, and it may be another day or two before resuming full time science operations, so things have been rather quiet lately. Other than of course the big press conference last Tuesday where it was announced that Curiosity has confirmed a previous habitable environment in this area from a long time ago.

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