NASA engineers on Earth and their Mars missions will soon be on a ‘break’ and stop sending commands to Mars for the next few weeks until mid-October. There will be radio silence between both planets during Mars solar conjunction which happens once every two years.
The missions on the Red planet will, however, continue to collect data about the planet, even during this period between October 2 and October 16.
What is Mars solar conjunction?
During such an event, both Earth and mars are on either sides of the Sun, which means that the Star would come between both planets in a manner that both planets won’t be able to ‘see’ each other for a few weeks.
Further, the Sun expels hot gas from its corona during this period which goes far into space and can interfere with radio signals if engineers try to communicate with spacecrafts on Mars. This could further result in unexpected behaviour from the explorers on Mars.
Are the Mars spacecrafts abandoned for weeks then?
The spacecrafts on Mars will carry out simple commands for a few weeks. Most missions will stop sending commands while a few will extend that commanding moratorium, a day or two in either direction, depending on the angular distance between Mars and the Sun in Earth’s sky.
“Though our Mars missions won’t be as active these next few weeks, they’ll still let us know their state of health,” said Roy Gladden, manager of the Mars Relay Network at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, according to a NASA report. “Each mission has been given some homework to do until they hear from us again.”
Here’s how some of those Mars missions will be spending that time.
Mars Perseverance Rover
Perseverance will take weather measurements with its MEDA (short for Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) sensors, look for dust devils with its cameras (though it won’t move its mast, or “head”), run its RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment) radar, and capture new sounds with its microphones.
Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will remain stationary at its location 575 feet (175 meters) away from Perseverance and communicate its status weekly to the rover.
Mars Curiosity Rover
The Curiosity rover will take weather measurements using its REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station) sensors, take radiation measurements with its RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector) and DAN (Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons) sensors, and look for dust devils with its suite of cameras.
The stationary InSight lander will continue using its seismometer to detect temors like the large marsquakes it captured recently.
Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance and MAVEN Orbiters
NASA’s three orbiters namely, Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN, will all continue relaying some data from the agency’s surface missions back to Earth, in addition to gathering their own science.
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