Mars could be considered a spacecraft graveyard. The planet is just a hard place to get to – and especially land on — and there are several ‘lost’ spacecraft lying somewhere on Mars’ surface. The Soviet Mars 6 lander arrived at Mars on March 12, 1974. The records detail that the descent module entered the atmosphere and the parachute opened at 09:08:32 UT, and during that time, the craft was collecting and returning data. However, contact with the descent module was lost at 09:11:05 UT, about the time it was expected to reach the surface.
“Because we know that the parachute opened and have some idea where it was headed, we have a chance of locating the hardware on the surface with HiRISE,” said Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for HiRISE, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
And it may be in this image, as it would be in approximately the right region of where Mars 6 was supposed to land. In fact, hopes were raised when an anomalous small bright patch was seen by MRO’s Context Camera (CTX) team, and then a CTX team member suggested this area as a target for HiRISE.
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McEwen said that since bright parachutes were the easiest thing to spot on the ground at 5 of the 6 past successful landing sites, but as you can see in this subimage, the bright spot at full HiRISE resolution appears to be just “a patch of relatively bright bedrock, with a pattern of thin lines (fractures) typical of such outcrops.”
But after nearly 38 years, the parachute and hardware may be covered by dust and look much like natural features on Mars.
“We’ll keep trying to find this and other failed landers,” McEwen said, “but there is a lot of surface area to cover on Mars.”
So, lend a hand and take a closer look by checking out the full resolution images available on the HiRISE website.