Uranus should be a top target for NASA and SpaceX missions.  Here's why

Uranus should be a top target for NASA and SpaceX missions. Here’s why

In April, a team of planetary scientists spread across the United States a report as part of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, places scientific pressure on NASA to build and air a probe that can explore the planet Uranus. If it goes ahead, a launch between 2023 and 2032 will be “viable on currently available launch vehicles” – which means we do not even need to innovate new technology to make it happen.

The proposed mission – called the Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP) – could even drop a probe into the ice giant’s atmosphere and reveal more than we ever knew about a gas giant we know very little about.

But with NASA’s Artemis crawling towards viable lunar programs with SpaceX and other private partners, along with other crew missions to the International Space Station and additional rovers such as Endurance on Marsit may seem to some that Uranus is simply not a priority.

Here’s why the ice giant should be one of them.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy may be the only way to Uranus

A mission to Uranus seems like a long shot (and it is), but NASA would not even have to develop or adapt its incipient SLS launch system for the long journey. IN an April report from Teslaratiit is suggested SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket could make the trip.

This is significant because the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket has not made its first launch, and Blue Origin’s suite of rockets has not yet risen beyond Earth’s orbit. Also an already green illuminated project for Jupiter’s moon, called Europa Clipperwill require significant upgrades to be done NASA’s SLS.

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In other words, while current technology could make the trip to Uranus, the only functional launch system in the United States that can make the trip is Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy. And if it does, we can solve several mysteries about Uranus, about which we know very little.

To date, scientists are quite convinced that its composition mostly contains hydrogen, ice, helium and rock. If we learn what the inside of Uranus looks like with great precision, we can also gain new insights into how our solar system was formed – and through extrapolation – into how solar systems that can support intelligent life can be formed elsewhere in the universe.

NoirLab2211b
A diagram comparing three layers of aerosols in the atmospheres of Neptune and Uranus (the altitude scale represents 10 bar pressure). Source: International Gemini Observatory / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA, J. da Silva / NASA / JPL-Caltech / B. Jónsson

Compare several wavelengths of Neptune and Uranus

“Our understanding of the inner structure of the planet’s inner structure is so poor that we really have very little idea of ​​how the relationship between these three things is in relation to each other,” said UC Santa Cruz professor Jonathan Fortney, who wrote a study on the feasibility of exploring Neptune and Uranus, in a report from The border.

However, it is not that we do not know anything about Uranus. A recent study in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets suggests that the concentrated haze on both ice giants is actually thicker on Uranus, making it “whiter” more than Neptune. If neither of the planets had this haze, both ice giants would appear with the same melancholic blue.

This discovery came from a model theorized by a global team to explain aerosol storage in the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune. Unlike previous studies of the two planets, which looked at specific wavelengths of light, the new model examined several layers of their atmospheres. This is significant because it allowed scientists to see how observations of any of the planets matched and differed from each other over a wide range of wavelengths.

Uranus was able to keep the secret behind life-friendly solar systems

Crucially, the new model also places disparticles in far deeper layers than researchers initially thought – where previously only clouds of methane and hydrogen sulfide ice were assumed to be present. “This is the first model that simultaneously fits observations of reflected sunlight from ultraviolet to near-infrared wavelengths,” said Professor Patrick Irwin, of Oxford University, who led the latest study, in a press release.

“It is also the first to explain the difference in visible color between Uranus and Neptune,” Irwin added. This model even lends data to support theories as to why the dark spots sometimes seen on Neptune appear to occur more often than they do on Uranus. According to research, a darker of the particles in the deep abyssal layers of the new model would give dark spots similar to what we see from the Earth’s orbit.

If we want to confirm the cause of these dark spots and get a more complete picture of how habitable solar systems are formed, we must explore all the gas giants. Since the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989 respectively, we have only returned to the planetary systems of Jupiter and Saturn. We even have more missions to do to explore the moons of both gas giants. Because Neptune and Uranus are equal (like ice giants), and Uranus is much closer – the only thing that prevents us from the next step in planetary science is the decision to commit, and send a probe.


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