Mars in a Minute: What Happens When the Sun Blocks our Signal?


March 20, 2013

How can you communicate with Mars spacecraft when the Sun is in the way? Learn more about 'solar conjunction' in this 60-second video.


TRANSCRIPT

About every two years, Earth and Mars wind up on opposite sides of the sun. Thatʼs called "solar conjunction."

It's like being on either side of a huge bonfire: we canʼt see Mars, and our landers, rovers, and orbiters canʼt see us.

If our spacecraft send back signals, charged particles from the sun could interfere, causing gaps in the data that reach us.

Thatʼs not a big deal: if somethingʼs missing, it can always be resent later. But, no way do we want to lose data when we send up commands. Receiving a partial command could confuse the spacecraft, putting them in grave danger!

So, mission controllers plan ahead by sending up simple to-do lists, including regular health check ups.

Back home, this break in communications lets team members catch up on other work... or take a well-deserved vacation!

Solar conjunction lasts just a few weeks. Then itʼs back to the grindstone... on Earth and on Mars.

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