NASA has stopped sending commands to Mars rover Curiosity and will soon follow suit for rover Opportunity, Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). But don't worry, government cutbacks haven't severed interplanetary communications, you can blame the sun.
Once every 26 months the orbits of Earth and Mars align in such a way that our nearest star physically gets in the way of our line of sight. Known as a "Mars solar conjunction," from our point of view, the red planet almost passes directly behind the solar disk. This means, inevitably, communications between the planets are severely disrupted.
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Curiosity mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., suspended communications with the one-ton robot yesterday (April 4) so to avoid any corruption of data. They won't recommence transmissions until May 1.
The sun's lower atmosphere (the corona) is buzzing with highly charged particles, causing interference with radio communications that pass through it. Also, each conjunction is different, depending on orbital inclination and solar activity. The sun is currently undergoing "solar maximum" - peak activity for its approximate 11-year cycle. This conjunction will see Mars close in on the solar limb by only 0.4 degree on April 17 - a maximum period for interference.