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NASA puts Mars rover on a month-long hiatus

NASA halts communication with Curiosity to avoid any interference during a period when the sun is blocking Earth-to-Mars transmission signals.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover -- Curiosity -- explores the surface of the red planet in this artist's concept. NASA

For the first time since its descent onto the red planet, the Mars rover Curiosity is getting a little alone time.

The rover and NASA scientists are having a communication breakdown, of sorts. But, not to worry, no hurt feelings are involved. The issue is that the sun has got in the way.

Once every 26 months, as the Earth and Mars rotate around the sun, the two planets end up on opposite sides of the star in an event called the Mars solar conjunction. Because of the sun's massive size, any communication sent between the two planets can be easily disrupted.

Not wanting to take any chances and send Curiosity or other Mars rovers scrambled directions, NASA shuts down all communications with its rovers for the time period in which the sun is in the way. This typically lasts about four weeks.

"We have plenty of useful experience dealing with them, though each conjunction is a little different," Chris Potts, NASA's mission manager for the Mars Odyssey rover, said in a statement. "The biggest difference for this 2013 conjunction is having Curiosity on Mars."

To prepare for the month off, NASA scientists give the rovers directions of what to do beforehand, which keeps the rovers busy working during those weeks. According to NASA, Curiosity may have up to 12 GB of data accumulated by the time it can make contact with NASA again.

Communication with Curiosity was suspended today and is expected to be back up again around May 1.

Here's a video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab explaining the signal breakdown between NASA and the rovers during a Mars solar conjunction: