NASA's fleet of Mars missions, from the Perseverance rover to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is going quiet for a few weeks in October. Every two years, Earth and Mars end up on opposite sides of the sun, a period called Mars solar conjunction. This makes communications with our robotic explorers unreliable, so NASA will just chill out until it's over.
"The sun expels hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space," NASA said in a statement Tuesday. "During solar conjunction, when Earth and Mars can't 'see' each other, this gas can interfere with radio signals if engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars."
NASA will pause the sending of commands starting Oct. 2 and lasting until Oct. 16 for most of the missions. On the Martian surface, those missions include the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity helicopter, Curiosity rover and InSight Lander. The Maven spacecraft, Odyssey orbiter and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are in residence above the planet.
Mars solar conjunction may be a relatively quiet time, but it's not a total vacation. Perseverance will continue to monitor the weather, take pictures and pick up sounds with its microphones. The Ingenuity helicopter will stay put, but it will remain in communication with Perseverance.
The other missions all have limited to-do lists to keep them occupied until the communications pipeline fully reopens. For space fans back on Earth, that means we'll be living without the usual stream of raw images of Mars that are regularly beamed back from the rovers and lander.
I guess we'll need to find another planet to obsess about while our Mars missions are lying low. I hear Jupiter is lovely this time of year.