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2021, October: Mars Command Pause

Mars from Hubble during 2018

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed Mars on July 18, 2018, during a dust storm and near its closest approach to Earth since 2003. (NASA photo)


NASA is pausing operational commands with the spacecraft exploring Mars as the Red Planet nears its conjunction with the sun.

Photo Caption – NASA’s Mars missions, clockwise from top left: Perseverance rover and Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, InSight lander, Odyssey orbiter, MAVEN orbiter, Curiosity rover, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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.

This animation illustrates Mars solar conjunction, a period when Mars is on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. During this time, the Sun can interrupt radio transmissions to spacecraft on and around the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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.

Solar Eclipse. The corona is visible (NASA photo)

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.


2021, December 29: Moon Nears Scorpion, Venus Departs

December 29, 2021: The morning crescent moon approaches Scorpius and Mars.  In the evening sky, four evening planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – are lined up in the southwest.  Venus is rapidly leaving the evening sky.

2021, December 28:  Venus Slips, Mercury Hops

December 28, 2021:  Brilliant Venus is quickly slipping from the evening sky.  Mercury appears beneath Venus after sunset.  This duo is joined by Jupiter and Saturn.  In the morning, Mars is near Antares and the moon near Spica.

2021, December 27:  Mars – Antares Conjunction

December 27, 2021:  The Red Planet Mars passes Antares this morning before sunrise.  At the same hour, the moon is near Spica.  The three bright planets – Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter – are in the evening sky.

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