It’s hibernation season for the rovers on Mars.
NASA and China National Space Administration (CNSA) are currently the only two space agencies whose robotic rovers are exploring the Red Planet and it seems like both will be forced to put the rovers on sleep mode for the time being. The decision comes during the “Mars solar conjunction” period in which the Sun passes between the Earth and Mars, literally getting in the way of the functioning of the Mars rovers.
The space agencies have decided to give a break to the rovers as the solar conjunction begins on 2nd October. NASA engineers are concerned about the Sun’s ionizing rays interfering with the instructions sent to the rovers from Earth by partially corrupting the signals and result in the rovers blowing themselves up (okay, that’s a bit extreme…)
Similarly, CNSA also has plans to pause its operations with the Tianwen-1 space probe and Zhurong rover during this transit phase. But this doesn’t mean the rovers wouldn’t get homework during the break. Roy Gladden, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Relay Network manager said in a NASA announcement, “Though our Mars missions won’t be as active these next few weeks, they’ll still let us know their state of health. Each mission has been given some homework to do until they hear from us again” Wow seems like NASA is a strict teacher.
The Perseverance and Curiosity rovers will continue to record the weather on Mars even with some of their instruments shut off. Meanwhile the InSight lander will continue to detect marsquakes and NASA’s Mars orbiters will still continue to act as relay stations between the Earth and the rovers whenever communication is possible. Seems like the rovers just can’t catch a decent no-work break.