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What is Mars' solar connection and why does it matter?



  What is the solar connection to Mars and why does it matter?
This animation illustrates the solar conjunction of Mars, a period when Mars is on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. During this time, the Sun may interrupt radio transmissions to spaceships on and around the Red Planet. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The daily conversation between antennas here on Earth and those of NASA's Mars spacecraft is about to become much quieter in a few weeks.


This is because Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the sun, a period known as the solar conjunction of Mars. The sun releases hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar communication, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers attempt to communicate with Mars spacecraft, corrupting commands and resulting from unexpected behavior by our deep space researchers.

To be safe, engineers stop sending commands when Mars disappears. far enough behind the crown of the sun to have an increased risk of interference.

"This is time again," says Roy Gladen, manager of the Mars Relay Network at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Our engineers have been preparing our spacecraft for months to come. They will still be collecting scientific data from Mars, and some will try to send that data home. But we will not command the spacecraft for concern that they may act corrupt command. "

When is this happening?

The solar connection is made every two years. This time, the detention of the issuance of commands ̵

1; called the "command moratorium" – will continue from August 28 to September 7, 2019. Some missions will stop commanding their spacecraft earlier in preparation for the moratorium.

What happens to the spacecraft?

Although some spacecraft instruments – especially large-volume cameras – will be inactive, all NASA Mars spacecraft will continue their science; they will just have much simpler to-do lists than they normally would.

On the surface of Mars, the Curiosity rover will stop driving until the InSight lander moves its robotic arm. Above Mars, both the orbit of Odyssey and Intelligence Mars will continue to collect data from Curiosity and InSight to return to Earth. However, only Odyssey will attempt to retransmit this data to Earth before the connection is complete. Meanwhile, another arbiter, MAVEN, will continue to collect its own scientific data, but will not support any relay operations during that time.

All this means is that there will be a temporary pause in the flow of raw images available from Curiosity, InSight and other Mars missions. Mars' solar connection affects the operations of all spacecraft currently on Mars, not just NASA.

What happens when the solar connection ends?

Once the connection is complete, the spacecraft will broadcast the data they have collected to NASA's Deep Space Network, a system of massive radio antennas operated by JPL.

If the teams monitoring these missions find that any of the scientific data collected is corrupted, they can usually retransmit the data after the moratorium ends on September 7.


For a moratorium on sending commands to Mars, blame the sun
Reference :
What is a Mars solar connection and why does it matter? (2019, August 24)
downloaded August 24, 2019
from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-mars-solar-conjunction.html

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