NASA, from November 11th to the 25th, is temporarily blocking the sending of signals to the actual fleet of rovers and orbiters on Mars due to a solar conjunction. The Red Planet and Earth will find themselves in opposite positions to the Sun, whose presence may interfere with radio signals.
Despite this, both rovers and orbiters will continue to carry out their scientific missions on the red planet, collecting a limited amount of data in the two-week stoppage of communications with the Earth. Indeed, before solar conjunction happens, the mission team sends up any necessary commands that the instruments have to perform during the darkening weeks.
When Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the Sun, our robots lie low.— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) November 10, 2023
In an event known as Mars solar conjunction, @NASA will pause sending its robots commands for 2 weeks – but the robots aren't on vacation. See what they’ll do during the break: https://t.co/CHlo6yKt5M pic.twitter.com/bCr0z6XTxp
The engineers and mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory prefer to temporarily interrupt all signals as there is still the possibility that they can reach our technology on Mars, the unknown issue lies in the integrity of these signals. If they are partially lost or damaged, it would represent a problem that would jeopardize the rovers’ systems. Indeed the hot, ionized gas expelled from the Sun’s corona could potentially corrupt radio signals and create interference.
“Our mission teams have spent months preparing to-do lists for all our Mars spacecraft. We’ll still be able to hear from them and check their states of health over the next few weeks”— Roy Gladden, manager of the Mars Relay Network at NASA’s JPL
NASA’s Rovers currently operating on Mars
Scientific research will not be interrupted on the red planet because of solar conjunction. There are currently numerous rovers and orbiters that continue to operate thanks to the commands and information that the engineers sent before the shielding:
- Perseverance rover is engaged in a geological mission, focusing on the study of the origin and chemical-mineralogical composition of rocks. Its area of research is the Jezero crater, about 45 kilometers in diameter. It is an impact crater, probably formed over 3.5 billion years ago.
- Curiosity rover, for an astrobiological mission, focused on the search for so-called bio-signatures (evidence of the presence of past life). By virtue of the work made by this rover, we are aware of the fact that the Martian atmosphere has thinned over several billion years, starting from its highest layers. This process also influenced the presence of liquid water on the surface.
- Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which uses its camera to study the movement of sand. It is the first powered aircraft to fly on another planet. Its first flight in Mars’s atmosphere took place in April 2021. Until now it has completed 66 flights covering a total distance of approximately 15 km.
NASA’s Probes currently operating in Mars orbit
- Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a planetary exploration probe whose mission is aimed at mapping the Martian surface, investigating the subsurface, and identifying future landing sites.
- MAVEN probe, whose mission is based on monitoring the state of the atmosphere and ionosphere and their interaction with the solar wind. It also studies the escape rate of neutral molecules and ions into space.
- Odyssey probe, which monitors the elements across the Martian surface, searches how much hydrogen exists in the shallow subsurface. It also develops and sends to Earth high-resolution images and spectroscopy of the mineral composition.