NASA is pausing operational commands with the spacecraft exploring Mars as the Red Planet nears its conjunction with the sun.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
About every 25 months, the Red Planet lines up with the sun. This is known as the solar conjunction that occurs on October 7 (11:01 p.m. CDT). The planet is on the far side of the sun, over 240 million miles away.
According to a NASA news release, the space agency will suspend operational commands. From October 2 through October 16 no commands will be sent to the over half dozen remote sensors that are studying the Martian environment from orbit, on the ground, and through flight in the thin atmosphere.
The sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona that becomes visible during a total solar eclipse, can affect radio transmissions that pass through it on their way from Earth to Mars. To keep the spacecraft safely in their current positions, commands are suspended.
While the Red Planet moves behind the sun and its extended atmosphere the safest operation is to place the spacecraft in a mode that allows them to collect data.
The remote stations will continue to take photographs, weather and atmospheric measurements, and monitor possible Mars quakes.
During the hiatus, no new images will be sent to Earth. They will be radioed home after Mars clears the interference from the sun’s corona.
October 29, 2021: Venus reaches its greatest elongation from the sun. It is in the evening sky with Jupiter and Saturn. The crescent moon and Mercury are in the eastern sky before sunrise.
October 29 – November 1, 2021: The crescent moon moves in front of the stars of Leo in the eastern sky before sunrise. Watch the moon appear lower and the phase shrink (wane) each morning. Also note that there is no Full moon on Halloween this year!
October 26, 27, and 28, 2021: During the early morning hours, the bright gibbous moon appears in front of Gemini’s stars.
October 26, 2021: Mercury is at its greatest morning appearance for the year. Look low in the east-southeast before sunrise.
October 25, 2021: This morning the bright gibbous moon seems to be caught between the horns of Taurus. Mercury is making its best morning appearance. The planet pack – Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the evening sky.