NASA images taken by NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter five years ago show signs of the lost Soviet Mars 3 Lander which was sent to the Red Planet in 1971.

The Soviet Union sent Mars 3 Lander to Mars where it touched down on the surface and continued transmitting for several seconds on December 2, 1971. It was the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars and survive long enough to transmit any data.

Now space enthusiasts from Russia have discovered four separate features in a five-year old image taken by the NASA spacecraft that resemble four pieces of hardware from the Mars 3 mission.

The objects spied in the photograph are believed to be the Mars 3 parachute, heat shield, terminal retrorocket, and lander itself. NASA also took a follow-up picture last month that shows the same features.

"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 High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

"Further analysis of the data and future images to better understand the three-dimensional shapes may help to confirm this interpretation," McEwen said in a statement.

This image was targeted to cover some of the hardware candidates in colour and to get a second look with different illumination angles. Meanwhile, Russian engineers and scientists who worked on Mars 3 were contacted for more information.