This month, movements of the planets will put Mars almost directly behind the Sun, from Earth’s perspective, causing curtailed communications between Earth and Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Now in Sol 1756, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover will cease operations this weekend. The team will check on the rover on August 4 and re-start full operations on August 7.

“In the meantime, Curiosity might just get lonely,” reports Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He is Principal Investigator for Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument.


Solar conjunction

Reason for ceasing Curiosity operations: a solar conjunction.

“Planetary scientists take their vacations when the planets align,” Wiens reports. “In our case it is because communications with Mars are blacked out when the Red Planet goes behind the Sun. It is called a solar conjunction. Afterwards, Mars will re-appear in our terrestrial skies early in the morning, just before sunrise. As the Earth chases the Red Planet, Mars will rise earlier until at opposition, when the Earth passes Mars a little over a year from now, the Red Planet will be directly overhead at midnight, e.g., directly behind Earth, relative to the Sun.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1754, July 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Facing steep ridge

A recent rover drive of 125 feet (38 meters) brought the mileage traveled by the robot since landing in August 2012 to just over 10.6 miles (17 kilometers).

The rover is now facing a steep, 65 feet (20 meter) high section of the Vera Rubin ridge. A recent image from the rover’s front Hazcam looks straight up the ridge. (photo at right)

“We won’t climb it here; there’s a gentler slope to the east,” adds Wiens.

The rover team has decided not to drive any further before conjunction.

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo acquired on Sol 1753, July 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity is on a roughly 8 degree slope right now “and the team didn’t want to risk a lot of slip just before conjunction,” Wiens explains.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1754, July 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The team planned the last ChemCams pre-conjunction, with targets “Jimmies Ledge” and “Jennys Nubble.” Mastcam will take a 2-image mosaic of the top portion of the ridge. The robot’s Navcam was in the plan, used to make a dust devil movie and a suprahorizon movie looking south, Wiens concludes.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1752, July 11, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


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