Mars in Conjunction

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Mars in Conjunction

We won’t be hearing much from the legion of orbiters, landers, and rovers at Mars right now. That’s because the planet is passing behind the Sun — a passage known as conjunction. And although the Sun isn’t a major source of radio waves, it produces enough to interfere with communications with the Red Planet.

And there’s been a lot of communicating going on. Assuming nothing has happened to them since we recorded this program, there are three working rovers and two stationary landers on the planet. In addition, there are more than a half-dozen craft in orbit around Mars. That’s by far the biggest fleet of working spacecraft ever at any world other than Earth.

When Mars passes behind the Sun, though, many of them will take a break. They won’t snap as many pictures, drill as many holes in the rocks, or take as many weather readings as normal. Since engineers won’t be able to talk to their charges if anything goes wrong, they don’t want to take any chances. The probes will have to hold on to most of the observations they do make until Mars begins to pull away from the Sun in a few days.

Mars also is too close to the Sun to see. It’ll technically move into the morning sky at conjunction, on Thursday night. But it won’t become visible in the dawn sky until late November. And it won’t be an easy target until almost Christmas — adding one more light to the holiday nights.

We’ll talk about another challenge to communications tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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