Radio silence...Mars at “solar conjunction” Wednesday night

For the next two weeks, teams commanding the Mars rovers, helicopter and orbiters take a break

FILE - This Tuesday, April 6, 2021 image made available by NASA shows the Perseverance Mars rover, foreground, and the Ingenuity helicopter about 13 feet (3.9 meters) behind. This composite image was made by the WASTON camera on the rover's robotic arm on the 46th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. On Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, NASAs newest Mars rover came up empty in its first attempt to pick up a rock sample to eventually be brought back to Earth. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP) (Uncredited)

ROANOKE, Va. – Around midnight, Mars will reach a point in its orbit known as “solar conjunction,” where the planet is directly behind the sun relative to Earth. This is something that happens roughly once every two years.

Mars reaches solar conjunction late Wednesday night

For teams in charge of communicating with the Mars rovers, helicopter and orbiters, it’s time for a much-needed two-week break. Because Mars will be within 2° of the sun, any radio communications cannot make it through.

NASA has two rovers on Mars - Curiosity and Perseverance. Curiosity has been on the Red Planet since 2012, and Perseverance landed just this past February. The Ingenuity helicopter has been performing flights, but says it’s been grounded as NASA learns how to fly it safely during Mars’ seasonal thinning of its atmosphere.

NASA also has three orbiters which have been through previous conjunctions.

During this communication blackout, NASA scientists have given “homework” to their Martian projects.

About the Author:

Meteorologist Chris Michaels is an American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcaster, forecasting weather conditions in southwest Virginia on WSLS 10 News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays on Virginia Today.