Aug 27, 2019

Mars' spacecraft go on summer vacation

Mars seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI

The robots responsible for exploring Mars from the surface and orbit are about to go on holiday.

The big picture: Every 2 years, Mars and Earth reach a point in their orbits known as solar conjunction, when the 2 planets are on opposite sides of the Sun, making communications more difficult.

  • Scientists on the ground will stop sending commands to the spacecraft in the vicinity of the red planet from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7, according to NASA.

Details: The Curiosity rover won't drive during the blackout, and the agency's InSight lander will stop moving its robotic arm, NASA said.

  • The Odyssey orbiter, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN orbiter will all continue circling the planet without new instructions from Earth.
  • Other spacecraft orbiting Mars like the European Space Agency's ExoMars orbiter, will also have some interruptions during the next few weeks.

Yes, but: The rovers and orbiters won't just be resting on their laurels during conjunction.

  • MAVEN will still collect science data, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey will be in touch with the immobile Curiosity and InSight.
  • Odyssey will also attempt to send some data collected from the spacecraft on the planet's surface back to Earth before the end of conjunction.

The bottom line: Those pretty Mars photos we're used to seeing every few days are going to slow down for a while, but come mid-September, we should all expect to get our weekly fix of red planet images again.

Go deeper

See an ice avalanche on Mars


A photo taken in May by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows an avalanche of ice falling on the planet.

What they're hearing: "Every spring the sun shines on the side of the stack of layers at the North Pole of Mars known as the north polar layered deposits. The warmth destabilizes the ice and blocks break loose," NASA said in an image description.

Go deeperArrowSep 21, 2019

Creating 'Planet B' in Earth's image

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Remaking Earth on another planet is likely not possible, and experts say the current talk about it perpetuates a problematic idea that we could one day leave Earth's problems behind.

Driving the news: SpaceX founder Elon Musk yet again waded into the world of terraforming — transforming a planet to make it like our Earth. He declared on Twitter that a series of nuclear explosions above Mars could create "artificial suns" to warm the world and make it habitable.

Go deeperArrowAug 27, 2019

NASA will send your name to Mars aboard its next rover

Tracks left by the Curiosity rover on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

There’s still time to send your name to Mars aboard a NASA rover expected to hunt for signs of past life on the Red Planet.

What’s happening: NASA is planning to send a computer chip stenciled with millions of names to Mars aboard the agency’s 2020 rover.

Go deeperArrowSep 24, 2019