Starting this Saturday, Mars will disappear from our view in a fascinating astronomical event called solar conjunction. During this phenomenon, the sun acts as a radiant curtain, temporarily hiding Mars and Earth from each other. NASA describes this celestial ballet as similar to dancers being obscured by a massive bonfire.
This cosmic encounter occurs every two years, creating a celestial gap of about 235 million miles between Earth and Mars, compared to their usual distance of 140 million miles. While sky watchers may only notice the momentary absence, the event has significant implications for NASA’s interplanetary communications, Space.com reports.
As a precautionary measure, NASA has decided to suspend all communications with its Mars fleet during the band. The reason behind this communication breakdown lies in the possible disturbances caused by the Sun’s corona, which can interfere with the signals between Earth and Mars. This glitch creates a risk of unexpected behavior from robotic explorers such as the Perseverance Rover and the Ingenuity helicopter.
NASA explained: “It is impossible to predict what information might be lost due to interference from charged particles from the Sun, and the lost information could potentially compromise the spacecraft.” To mitigate this risk, engineers are busily preparing a two-week brief ahead of the moratorium on commanding Mars spacecraft, which runs from November 11 to November 25, 2023.
However, space enthusiasts don’t have to worry about a temporary communication outage. The space agency is temporarily suspending commands to its Mars fleet, but mission teams have carefully curated mission lists for all Mars spacecraft. “Our mission teams have spent months preparing mission lists for all of our Mars spacecraft,” asserts Roy Gladden, director of the Mars Relay Network. “We will continue to hear from them and check on their health over the next few weeks.”
As Mars slips behind the solar curtain, scientists and enthusiasts alike await the resumption of interplanetary communications and the fascinating updates that await us on the red planet.