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Science & Space

Mars rovers to sit tight for 12 days

By Dave Santucci
CNN Space Producer

The rovers will power-down for 12 days when the sun passes inbetween the Earth and Mars.
The rovers will power-down for 12 days when the sun passes between the Earth and Mars.

(CNN) -- Starting Wednesday, the Mars rovers will go into an anticipated 12-day "loss of communication" period as the sun passes between the Earth and Mars, an alignment known as conjunction.

The energetic environment around the sun is expected to interfere with radio communications between the two planets.

The down time will begin Wednesday for the Rover Spirit and Thursday for Opportunity.

The first of the two Mars exploration rovers landed on the Red Planet almost eight months ago. They have traversed more than three miles between them since they landed, discovering evidence of ancient martian water and taking unprecedented pictures along the way.

During the 12-day down period, the rovers' wheels and robotic arms will sit motionless, but the camera mast will move to make observations according to instructions sent in advance of the down time. They will use an instrument known as the Moessbauer spectrometer to take readings to determine the mineral composition of the martian soil.

Jet Propulsion Lab engineers have been faced with hardware and software problems with the rovers on occasion, but have worked around or fixed every one so far. NASA says the original plan for the rovers was a three-month mission and everything since has been gravy.

After the 12-day down period NASA will face yet another challenge: waking the aging rovers.

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