While I admit finding a needle in a haystack would be a tough task, it isn’t exactly compatible to the kinds of searches I put myself through, which would promote the use of the saying, “Boy, this is like looking for a 12-volt adapter inside a big Rubbermaid storage container of adapters.” And for a dedicated group of Russian fans of the Curiosity rover, it would be like finding a Soviet lander on Mars.
And they did just that, probably. Members of a Curiosity-focused online forum in Russia, founded by Vitali Erogov, have been on the hunt for the Mars 3 lander, the first spacecraft to have a successful soft landing on Mars. For their guide, they used a 1.8 billion pixel image of the area containing the lander’s projected site, taken by the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera in November 2007. It’s like Where’s Waldo?, if Waldo was a speck of dust. Specifically, they were looking for a parachute, heat shield, terminal retrorocket and the lander itself. To give everyone a sense of scale, Erogov made models of what these parts would look like in the images. Mostly just blurs, really, but distinct blurs.
After recent findings showed promise, Dr. Alexander Basilevsky got in touch with Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for HiRISE, and asked for a newer image of the area to serve as a comparison, and the image was taken on March 10, 2013. And while there could of course be plenty of other explanations for these similarities, there’s a fairly good chance these are the all the parts of the Mars 3.
It’s been a good month for finding old spacecraft. Perhaps when the Russians get their space travel business off the ground – pun intended – they can make their way to Mars and see if they can figure out what it was that caused the Mars 3 transmissions to stop just 14 seconds on the planet’s surface. I hope it was more than just spooky rocks.