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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014

Mars rovers to keep idling during eclipse

Vanita Srivastava, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, March 30, 2013
First Published: 23:06 IST(30/3/2013) | Last Updated: 23:08 IST(30/3/2013)

Call it a spring break for the two Nasa’s Mars rovers. Opportunity and Curiosity will soon get a respite from their human operators on Earth as from the next week the red planet will come directly behind the sun from the earth’s perspective. This will prevent their ‘ human bosses’ from sending signals or commands.

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“During Mars-Sun-Earth alignments, the Sun can disrupt radio transmissions between the two planets,” Dr Amitabha Ghosh, chair of the Science Operations Working Group at Nasa Mars Exploration Rover Mission, told HT.

“This phenomenon is called solar conjunction. It is a cosmic event just like any eclipse. The whole event will last for 3-4 weeks in April during which we will not send any command to the rovers so as to prevent an impaired command from reaching them.”

Every 26 months, the path between Mars and Earth is disrupted due to their orbits around the sun, hindering communication with other spacecraft.

“This is the time when the two rovers will have to fend for themselves,” Dr Ghosh said adding: “They have inbuilt computers and can work without human interventions. Once the conjunction is over, we will be able to retrieve all the onboard data from the computers.”

On the news that a Nasa official had advised to pray on how to handle a large asteroid headed towards New York City, he said, “Nasa has made a mapping effort but the efforts are not very comprehensive. India still has to make an effort to be prepared in this direction. As a matter of fact, not just India but no other country is geared for it. There is actually no ready solution to the threat.”

Explaining the scientific findings made so far, he said that a potentially habitable environment had been detected on Mars. “This means it could have been possible for life to survive in that environment. Curiosity has also uncovered in Maritan rocks, the presence of sulphur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — all of which are building blocks.

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