For the next few weeks, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity will be left alone on the Red Planet to think its robot thoughts without interference from its human overlords.
That’s because the sun will be directly between Mars and the Earth, in a formation known as a Mars solar conjunction, until the end of April. This planetary alignment could easily disrupt radio transmissions between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Curiosity, so mission controllers have suspended sending commands to the rover until May 1. Transmissions from Mars to Earth will also be reduced, NASA said.
It’s the first Mars solar conjunction for Curiosity, which landed on the planet in Aug. 2012.
Mars solar conjunctions occur about every 26 months, so NASA has instituted periods of silence before with its other Mars spacecraft, the Opportunity rover, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Odyssey orbiter.
“This is our sixth conjunction for Odyssey," said Chris Potts, mission manager for NASA's Mars Odyssey, which has been orbiting Mars since 2001, said in a statement. "We have plenty of useful experience dealing with them, though each conjunction is a little different."
Curiosity will continue to make science observations at its current location of YellowKnife Bay while it’s on its own, using a set of commands mission controllers sent beforehand, Space.com reported.
And just to reassure nervous NASA officials that it’s still functioning, Curiosity will send beeps directly to Earth each day.
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