Mars disappeared from the sky. This unusual phenomenon is caused by its conjunction with the Sun, i.e. the planet “hiding” behind our star. Although this phenomenon occurs cyclically, it means certain complications for NASA – it was necessary to suspend communication with devices operating on the Red Planet.
On Saturday, November 18, Mars was in conjunction with the Sun. This means that the Sun is perfectly in line between it and the Earth. For this reason, it is impossible to see it in the sky for about two weeks, and the Red Planet will be visible again after November 25. Mars was also invisible for about a week before the conjunction, when it began to “hide” behind the Sun.
During the conjunction, the distance between Mars and Earth also increases – from the usual 225 million kilometers to about 330 million kilometers. This distance is now more than two and a half times greater than the average distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Mars disappeared from the sky
As the website indicates NASA, the phenomenon of Mars-Sun conjunction occurs on average every two years. Although it is not unpredictable, it means considerable difficulties for the agency. “Hot, ionized gas ejected from the solar corona has the potential to disrupt radio signals sent from Earth to NASA’s Mars fleet, leading to unexpected behavior,” the agency said in a November 10 press release.
As it was added, for this reason it was decided to stop “sending commands” to devices located on the surface of Mars between November 11 and 25.
Mars and Sun conjunction
“However, this does not mean that robotic explorers will be on vacation,” NASA noted, explaining that the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers will continue to monitor changes in surface, weather and radiation conditions on the Red Planet during this time. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will study sand movements on Mars, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey will continue to image its surface. In turn, the MAVEN spacecraft will continue to collect data on the interactions between the planet’s atmosphere and the Sun.
“NASA teams have been preparing for the communications blackout for months,” explains Roy Gladden, manager of the Mars Relay Network at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California. As he explains, the preparations included, among others: on preparing lists of tasks that space probes involved in Mars exploration will be expected to carry out. He added that despite the communication break, it would still be possible to assess their condition. – After November 25, communications will be resumed and all data collected until that day will be sent, he announced.
Main photo source: NASA/JPL-Caltech