Mars missions to rest as Red Planet hides behind Sun

Washington, June 8 (IANS) From June 7 to June 21, NASA’s Mars Missions will not beam any new data to the Earth as the Red Planet goes behind the Sun and the spacecraft and rovers take their biennial rest.

The positioning of the Sun between the Earth and Mars is called Mars-solar conjunction.

This month, the Red Planet will swing almost directly behind the Sun from the Earth’s perspective.

This celestial geometry, that happens about every 26 months, will lead to diminished communications with spacecraft on or around Mars.

“Because the Sun disrupts radio transmissions between the Earth and Mars during conjunction, communications are curtailed,” the US space agency said.

To prevent spacecraft at Mars from receiving garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful, the operators of Mars orbiters and rovers temporarily stopped sending any commands.

Spacecraft will continue making some science observations during the conjunction period though rovers will not do any driving or arm movements.

“Our overall approach is based on what we did for the solar conjunction two years ago, which worked well,” said Nagin Cox, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, California.

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, which arrived in Mars orbit last September, will be experiencing its first solar conjunction.

MAVEN — short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution — will continue monitoring the solar wind reaching Mars and making other measurements.

“The data will be stored and transmitted back to us after communications are re-established at the end of the solar conjunction period,” added James Morrissey, MAVEN deputy project manager.

Transmissions from NASA’s two other Mars orbiters — Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter — will continue through the conjunction period, but some of those transmissions are not expected to reach the Earth.

The active Mars rovers — Curiosity and Opportunity — will send limited data to orbiters throughout conjunction for relay to the Earth during and after conjunction.

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