Mars Solar Conjunction
- On the surface of Mars are NASA’s Curiosity rover and InSight lander.
- Above Mars are several orbiters, including India’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft (Mangalyaan), which has completed its official mission life but remains in orbit.
- Antennas on Earth and those on active spacecraft on or around Mars regularly exchange data.
- Now this will pause because of a phenomenon called Mars solar conjunction.
- For NASA’s spacecraft, this will happen between August 28 and September 7.
Causes of the conjuction
- During Mars solar conjunction, Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun.
- The Sun expels hot, ionised gas from its corona, which extends far into space.
- During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behaviour from those space explorers.
- When Mars disappears far enough behind the Sun’s corona that there is increased risk of radio interference, engineers hold off on sending commands. Solar conjunction occurs every two years.
- This time, the hold on issuing commands — called a “command moratorium” — will run from August 28 to September 7, NASA said.
- All of this means that there will be a temporary pause in the stream of raw images available.
- Once conjunction is over, the spacecraft will beam the data they have collected
- In 2015, the conjunction period for Mangalyaan had lasted for more than a month — from May 27 to July 1.