Nasa Mars Orbiter May Have Found Soviet 'Mars 3' Craft Lost In 1971 (PICTURES)

A Nasa spacecraft in orbit around Mars may have found the wreckage of a Soviet lander sent to the Red Planet in 1971.

The Russian Soviet Mars 3 lander was sent to the planet 42 years ago, consisting of an orbiter and a lander.

It was launched alongside another mission, Mars 2, which crashed. But Mars 3 survived long enough to send back data for 14.5 seconds. In the process it became the first spacecraft to attain soft landing on Mars.

ABOVE: This image released by NASA shows a set of pictures taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing what may be parts of a Soviet spacecraft that landed on Mars in 1971.

But since then the craft has been lost - until now.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, currently circling the planet, took the intriguing snap last month which has enthusiasts convinced the probe has been found.

The craft's HiRise camera took an image of the predicted landing site in the Ptolemaeus Crater in November 2007, and followed it up with another image last month.

A group of enthusiasts in Russia led by Vitali Egorov managed to find small features in the giant, 1.8-billion pixels image that he says look like the parachute, heat shield, terminal retrorocket and lander.

Nasa says it does indeed look like the probe has been found - though they don't know for certain.

"Together, this set of features and their layout on the ground provide a remarkable match to what is expected from the Mars 3 landing, but alternative explanations for the features cannot be ruled out," said HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen.

"Further analysis of the data and future images to better understand the three-dimensional shapes may help to confirm this interpretation."