Mars solar conjunction 2013 will make NASA rovers redundant for some days

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    Mars solar conjunction 2013 will make NASA rovers redundant for some days. Shhhh…. Our rover and orbiters are taking rest. Due to a conjunction that has taken place between the sun and the neighbouring planets, April is expected to be a quiet month for the rovers and orbiters that have been sent to Mars.

    Every 26 months, the Red Planet, Sun and the Earth are aligned and this is called a Mars solar conjunction and this means that the NASA has experienced this before and preparations for the alignment are already on by the space agency.

    Chris Potts of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mission manager for NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, said, “This is our sixth conjunction for Odyssey. We have plenty of useful experience dealing with them, though each conjunction is a little different.”

    This arrangement will conclude in an angle that takes place between Mars and the Sun at about .4 degrees, well, just our perspective through the NASA’s eyes.

    This arrangement will have an effect on the radio transmissions, which means that due to the positioning of the sun between Mars and the Earth, NASA won’t be able to communicate as effectively with its craft.

    It happens many a times that the solar activity intensifies interference of the sun but evidences state that this latest cycle is relatively mild.

    Mars currently is seeing the Mars Science Laboratory, informally known as Curiosity, and its smaller sibling Opportunity, operating at the moment.

    There are two orbiters that are operating for NASA and these are the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which uses radar, spectrometers and cameras to analyze surface conditions and weather on the Red Planet; and the 2001 Mars Odyssey, which is searching for evidence of past water or volcanic activity. These satellites also help relay communications from the ground-based rovers back to Earth.

    Mars Express is another orbiter of the European Space Agency that will likely be taking a load off to wait out the solar conjunction.

    From April 9 to April 26, transmissions from Earth to the orbiters are being suspended by NASA to avoid dropping crucial calls. On April 4, only a record-only mode will be entered by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    It was stated by the MRO mission manager that the entire conjunction period will see storing data on board. Meanwhile, the data will be transmitted by Odyssey.

    During the same period, no commands will be sent to Opportunity but our rover will not be given a break. The team will be sending long-term instructions for the robot to carry out during the silent period.

    In order to make Opportunity work, extra science planning work this month is being put in to develop almost three weeks of activity sequences during the conjunction.

    Observation will be made by Curiosity on its own, and from April 4 to May1, the rover’s team will suspend their direct commands.

    After the Red planet emerges from behind the Sun, an April shower of several weeks’ data will be received by NASA engineers.