A cosmic hide and seek: Mars disappears from sight as Sun "swallows" it

Prepare for a cosmic hiatus as Mars vanishes from our view. Not only will no one be able to see it, NASA itself will lose all communication with its spacecraft circling Mars.

| Updated on: Nov 18 2023, 21:42 IST
Sunspot ready to explode, may send solar flares Earthward, spark geomagnetic storm: NASA SDO
1/5 As explained by NASA, a solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. If the radiation travels in the direction of our planet and disturbs the Earth’s magnetic field, it can lead to a geomagnetic storm. (NOAA)
2/5 NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has revealed that there is a danger of a recent sunspot releasing an M-Class solar flare in Earth's direction and it can spark a geomagnetic storm on our planet.  (Pexels)
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3/5 According to a report by spaceweather.com, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), forecasts that a region on the Sun's surface, designated as Sunspot AR3483, has a “'beta-gamma” magnetic field. This sunspot can trigger M-class solar flares and has enough potential to blow out a stream of solar flares consequently causing Geomagnetic storms on Earth. (Pixabay)
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4/5 The NASA's SDO carries a full suite of instruments to observe the Sun and has been doing so since 2010. It uses three very crucial instruments to collect data from various solar activities including the  Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI), Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE), and Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA). These instruments are extremely helpful in predicting space phenomena and the likelihood of geomagnetic storms on Earth. (Pixabay)
5/5 What most of these Geomagnetic storms can do is create beautiful auroras - the colourful Northern and Southern lights. On the other hand, if they are really powerful, they also can disrupt navigation systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS),  cause power and radio blackouts, and more. One of the most intense geomagnetic storms was recorded during the solar cycle 10. That storm was designated as the Carrington Event. This geomagnetic storm caused aurora displays and even fires in telegraph stations way back in 1859. (NASA)
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Mars will vanish during the solar conjunction and NASA has been forced to pause all communications with its robotic explorers there. (Pixabay)

In an astronomical twist, Mars is set to vanish from our celestial view for a fortnight, starting this Saturday. The phenomenon responsible for this cosmic disappearance is known as solar conjunction, where the sun acts as a radiant curtain, temporarily veiling Mars and Earth from each other. NASA aptly describes this celestial ballet as akin to dancers obscured by a colossal bonfire.

This cosmic rendezvous occurs every two years, creating a celestial gap of approximately 235 million miles between Earth and Mars, compared to their usual 140 million-mile separation. While sky gazers may only notice a fleeting absence, the event holds significant consequences for NASA's interplanetary communication, Space.com reported.

Communications Blackout

As part of precautionary measures, NASA has decided to halt all communications with its Martian fleet during the conjunction. The reason behind this communication blackout lies in the potential interference caused by the Sun's corona, which could disrupt signals between Earth and Mars. This interference poses a risk of unexpected behavior from robotic explorers like the Perseverance Rover and the Ingenuity helicopter.

NASA explained, "It's impossible to predict what information might be lost due to interference from charged particles from the Sun, and that lost information could potentially endanger the spacecraft." To mitigate this risk, engineers diligently prepare two weeks' worth of instructions before the moratorium on commanding Mars spacecraft, spanning from November 11 to November 25, 2023.

However, space enthusiasts need not fret about the temporary communication blackout. While the space agency temporarily suspends commands to its Martian fleet, the mission teams have meticulously curated to-do lists for all Mars spacecraft. "Our mission teams have spent months preparing to-do lists for all our Mars spacecraft," assures Roy Gladden, the manager of the Mars Relay Network. "We'll still be able to hear from them and check their states of health over the next few weeks."

As Mars slips behind the solar curtain, both scientists and enthusiasts await the resumption of interplanetary communication and the intriguing updates that await us from the red planet.

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First Published Date: 18 Nov, 21:42 IST