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Solar System in Harmony: Sun, Earth and Mars in Alignment

By Jonathan Daniel


During the middle of November, as NASA noticed, Earth and Mars were on the complete opposite sides of the sun. The alignment of Earth and Mars around the sun has stopped communications from NASA to the spacecraft currently stationed on Mars. Concerns have been raised among the public about whether or not this disturbance would impact current research on the planet.


“NASA should be able to work past the solar conjunction with the resources provided to them. They are a large organization with plenty of expertise,” sophomore Justin Li said.


This is an example of an event known as a solar conjunction. Solar conjunction refers to when a planet or other celestial object is positioned on the opposite side of the sun as Earth. In this case, Mars was on the other side of the sun for around two weeks. During a solar conjunction, the object is hidden from Earth’s view, making connections with that body near impossible. Its occurrence between Earth and Mars is not uncommon. In fact, it is a regular phenomenon that takes place approximately every 26 months. 


Source by Izzy Chu

Recently, NASA observed a solar conjunction with Mars, during which the two planets are on opposite sides of the sun.


During this time period, NASA held off on sending messages to Mars because they would be disrupted by the sun. The sun expels hot, ionized gas which extends far into space. This gas can interfere with radio signals attempting to reach the various spacecraft positioned on Mars. So what does this mean for NASA and its mission to explore Mars and collect data?


“I doubt that it would affect exploration of Mars because the most recent solar conjunction of Mars only lasted two weeks. NASA has been attempting to explore Mars for years now, so I believe that it will not affect them heavily,” sophomore Arvin Ghai said.


Due to the regularity of such events, NASA has already created plans for their numerous spacecraft currently operating on Mars under these circumstances. In particular, most spacecraft would continue functioning, but many of the data-collecting instruments may need to temporarily halt their operations. For instance, the Curiosity rover on Mars’ surface would stop driving and the InSight lander would stop moving its robotic arm. In the atmosphere around Mars, the Odyssey orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would continue to collect data, but only the Odyssey craft would attempt to relay the information back to Earth. Another orbiter, named MAVEN, would continue to collect data without relaying it back to Earth. The information will be fully sent to NASA’s Deep Space Network once the conjunction is over and it is deemed safe to relay.


“They chose not to send commands because a lot of the commands would not make it through,” science teacher Mr. Micciche said. “The same goes for the Mars Rover relaying information back to Earth. They have tried in the past and some information is lost and incomplete.”


Despite the severance in connections caused by this phenomenon, it appears that this has not affected NASA significantly. They will continue to effectively explore Mars through automated rovers and orbiters. Once the conjunction is over, NASA can relay all the information back to their database and continue further research. 

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