Mission controllers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have turned off some of their instruments for a few weeks and have sent many of their staff on holiday. Communications between Earth and their spacecraft on Mars will diminish during this period. 

But do not fear, this is not an extraordinary event. It happens every two years, lasts for about two weeks and is due to a solar conjunction. To explain it in a few words, it means that Earth and Mars are at opposite sides of the Sun, which is obscuring the two planets and is thus preventing regular communication between us and the red planet. It is an interesting phenomenon and, if you are curious, you can watch this video and find out how it affects the work at Nasa.

In any case, this is the fifth solar conjunction for Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity since its arrival in 2004 and will be the first one for Curiosity.

You would think that with so many Nasa staff on holiday we would hear less about the explorations on the red planet. And you would be so wrong… In fact, taking advantage of the enforced break, institutions worldwide have invited those working on the rovers to give public lectures about their work so there will be plenty of talks about Mars in the coming weeks.

© NASA/JPL-Caltech

At the RSC we couldn’t let this opportunity go by and will be hosting not one but two events with two different speakers from Nasa to discuss the adventures of  Curiosity.

The first of the two talks will be hosted by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s All-Party Group on Science and Technology, in conjunction with Matrix, and will feature a presentation by Nagin Cox, formerly Deputy Head of Engineering for Nasa’s Mars Curiosity Rover. This will be on Monday 15 April from 3.30pm to 5.00pm, in the Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast. If you live near and want to attend you can register here.

The second event, named Where the streets have no name, will be in London on Thursday 18 April at 6.30pm and will be streamed live online so anyone can watch from anywhere in the world!  Mars rovers’ driver Paolo Bellutta, who also works at Nasa JPL, will talk about his work, and driving Curiosity and other rovers on Mars.

The Chair for the evening will be Quentin Cooper, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Material World, and he’ll be taking questions via @RSC_Comms and #RSCpubliclecture. 

Also, don’t forget you can follow Curiosity and Opportunity via twitter at @MarsCuriosity and @MarsRovers. The planets will soon move away from the conjunction and you will once again be able to receive first-hand information on the latest mission to Mars!

 Chiara Ceci

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