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.
December 30, 2021: The morning crescent moon seems to be captured in the Scorpion’s pincers to the upper right of Mars. Four Evening Planets – Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Jupiter – are in the southwest after sundown.
December 28, 2021: The Great Andromeda Galaxy is nearly overhead at the end of the evening twilight.
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.
November 28, 2021: During twilight this evening, the three bright evening planets – Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter – are on parade in the southwestern sky.
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.