Mars 3              

The Mars 3 mission is most famous for its 20-second transmission from the surface of Mars. Why the orbiter failed, and controversy over the slim possibility that the image data returned might contain the horizon of Mars has become a topic of much discussion.  However, the Mars 3 orbiter did return some images from Mars. Due to transmitter problems, they were not at full resolution.  The camera utilized film, and could scan the image at 64, 255, and 1000 lines per image.  They were all returned at 255 lines per image.  While Mars 3 sufficient film for 480 pictures, it only took 60.  It is not clear whether all of these images were returned.  Mars 2, Mars 3's sister craft, was in a proper orbit, but had more serious transmitter problems, and therfore returned little to no imagery.  Mars 3 had a fuel leak which forced it to shorting its orbit insertion burn, leaving it in a long, eliptical orbit that took almost 13 days. 

During the first 40 days in orbit, Mars-3 acted on a pre-programmed sequence, and, with a global dust storm in progress, many appeared nearly blank.  In addition, due to the fact that Mars 3 was limited to transmitting in 255 line mode (the transmitter only worked for shot periods, so trying to transmit an image at 1000 lines risked causing it to fail permanently), the images were seriously inferior to those from Mariner 9, which made them useless as propaganda tools.  The following images were obtained in December of 1971.


This shows Mars with some features visible, but with extensive dust obscuration.  It was taken during the middle of December, 1971


This image, also taken during December, shows an intense haze beyond the limb of the planet, another effect of the dust storm.

The next images were likely obtained during the first 40 days, but this is not certain.

This image, showing the "chaotic terrain" beyond the eastern end of Valles Marineres,  is perhaps the best relatively close-range shot from Mars-3.

This contrast-enhanced view is said to show the region of Mars known as "Iapygia."  Given this location, the ringed structure is likely the crater Huygens. 

This image is often referred to as showing Martian "mountains."   There is certainly evidence of albedo features and topography.  However, it does not provide enough information to allow one to interpret the features.

After the initial 40 day period, which, due to the dust storm and odd orbit lead to the majority of the 36 images obtained being useless, two more imaging sessions, on February 28 and March 12, 1972, were obtained, each consisting of 12 images.  I have not come across any actual images from the March 12 sequence.  The February 28th sequence was the most productive of the Mars-3 mission (in the sense that the images from this sequence are the ones most frequently seen in scientific papers).

This image shows Mars after the dust storm, with a much clearer atmosphere than it had in December.  The RGB color sequences taken by Mars-3 of a crescent Mars are the first ever taken at such a high phase angle, allowing some of the first high-phase photometric studies of the planet.

This image is a red-filtered image from the sequence.  It may or may not have been the red component of the above image.

It is a shame that transmitter problems, ending up in the wrong orbit, and a dust storm conspired to cripple the imaging mission of the Soviet 1971 Mars mission. Still, it is interesting to see what was seen despite these impediments through the eyes of the Mars-3 orbiter.

This is from the Mars-3 lander transmission during the 20 seconds it transmitted from Mars.  There has been speculation that it depicts the Martian horizon.  More likely, any "features" are just noise.  The scene was reported to be about 70 lux, similar to a cloudy day.  It is a shame that the lander couldn't have made it a little longer, to send back a real picture, and its first scientific data from its other instruments, due after about a minute.

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Use of these images requires permission of the author.         

Ted Stryk 2007

Original Data for Russian Images Courtesy the Russian Academy of Sciences