Mars Rover Curiosity Sleeps As Solar Storm Approaches

Melissa Stusinski - Author

Dec. 25 2017, Updated 4:51 p.m. ET

The Mars rover Curiosity is sleeping as a solar storm approaches the Red Planet. The newest rover’s handlers put the SUV-sized space-walker on standby mode after the sun unleashed a medium-sized solar flare toward Mars.

The solar flare complicates engineers’ work to bring the one-ton robot back from “safe mode,” where it has been since a computer glitch happened last week.

Scientists took Curiosity out of safe mode on Saturday and were working through an issue with the robot’s main computer system. The newest Mars rover is equipped with two computers, allowing scientists to transfer its memory to a secondary unit while they repair the first.

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The Curiosity rover announced its sleep-mode on Twitter, saying, “Storm’s a-comin’! There’s a solar storm heading for Mart. I’m going back to sleep to weather it out.”

Curiosity was built to withstand solar flares like the one headed toward Mars. Therefore, the rover going into sleep mode is simply a precaution. The unplanned move will further delay the rover’s return to science operations, which was expected this weekend.

The Mars Curiosity rover’s mission so far has been almost flawless. The SUV-sized robot touched down in August inside the Red Planet’s Gale Crater. But the robot failed last Wednesday to send home recorded data. It also did not shift into its daily sleep mode. After diagnosis, scientists believe the rover’s problem happened because of a fast-moving charged particle called a cosmic ray.

While they have put the Curiosity rover to sleep as a precaution, the solar flare is not expected to affect the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter or the Opportunity rover. While a solar flare’s Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) stands a chance of affecting electronics and power grids on Earth, Mars lacks a global magnetic field.

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Because of this, a CME doesn’t have the same effect on the Red Planet. There is no word on when scientists plan to wake up the sleeping Mars Curiosity Rover.


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