Curiosity Rover in sleep mode as solar flare heads for Mars

Curiosity hunkered down Wednesday after the sun unleashed a blast that raced toward Mars.


More trouble for the Mars Curiosity Rover which has just about recovered from a computer glitch that forced scientists to switch to its backup computer while they repaired some corrupted files.

The Rover now finds itself in the path of a solar flare that could potentially cause radiation damage, reports Slashgear.

The rover which was just re-activated has been put back into safe mode until the solar flare passes, the report added. The rover is designed to withstand punishing space weather, but scientists are putting it to sleep in view of the recent computer trouble it just faced.

Nasa put out the following tweet on behalf of the rover:

https://twitter.com/MarsCuriosity/status/309451459924221953

On Tuesday, scientists noticed a huge flare erupting from the sun that hurled a stream of radiation in Mars' direction. The solar burst also spawned a cloud of superheated gas that barreled toward the red planet at 2 million mph.

 Curiosity Rover in sleep mode as solar flare heads for Mars

Back to sleep! Image from Nasa

The eruption did not appear severe or extreme, but "middle of the road, all things considered" said space weather chief Bob Rutledge at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Associated Press.

The solar tempest was not expected to have an impact on Earth. In the past, such outbursts have triggered solar storms with the ability to disrupt utility grids, airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services. They're also known to produce shimmering auroras in places farther from the poles.

Since Mars lacks a planet-wide magnetic field, it does not experience geomagnetic storms. Rather, the planet sees a spike in radiation, Rutledge said.

Powerful solar blasts can cause trouble to Mars spacecraft. In 2003, an intense solar flare knocked out the radiation detector on the Odyssey orbiter.

NASA does not expect similar drama from the latest solar activity.

In the worst-case scenario, one or more of the working Mars spacecraft may enter "safe mode" in which science activities are halted but they remain in contact with Earth.

"We'll be watching and seeing what happens," said Roger Gibbs, JPL deputy manager for the Mars exploration program.

The unsettled space weather comes as Curiosity is recovering from a memory hiccup that put its science experiments on hold. It was the first major problem to hit the car-size rover since it landed last year in an ancient crater near the Martian equator to hunt for the chemical building blocks of life.

Engineers were in the middle of troubleshooting when they decided to wait for the weather to pass. The delay means it'll take longer for Curiosity to return to analyzing the pinch of rock powder it collected from a recent drilling.

Since its instruments are turned off, it can't use its radiation sensor to track the solar particles.

"It's just bad timing," Cook said.

With inputs from Associated Press


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