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For a brief moment, it was the robot king of Mars. Then it closed shutdown unexpectedly and was lost for good. Back in 1971 the Soviet lander Mars 3 scored the first soft landing on the Red Planet. But it existed operatedfor only about 15 seconds and then failed. Since that time, Mars 3 has been little more than an historic interplanetary paperweight, its exact resting spotplaceunknown. Now a team of amateur researchers may have located the defunct lander. Using imagery taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2007, the searchers found spottedan object that could be Mars 3. Nearby they also turned up what may be the lander’s descent module and energy heatshield, as well as an unusually bright spot that could be the parachute. All four items are in the expected launchinglandingarea. A follow-up photo of the region acquired by the NASA orbiter in March has strengthened the case. But the researchers will keep poring over the available imagery to make sure. Unfortunately there’s no method wayto get a closer look. Because the current robot king of Mars, the Curiosity rover, is thousands of kilometers away.

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