NASA science advisors call exploration of Uranus a top priority this decade

Uranus, seen by Voyager 2 in January 1986

Uranus, seen by Voyager 2 in January 1986
picture: NASA/JPL

A new report covering the next 10 years in planetary science and astrobiology concludes that sending an orbiter and probe to Uranus should be the “highest priority mission.” The decadal survey of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine aims to shape funding and research efforts through 2032.

The report calls for a spacecraft to orbit Uranus and map its gravitational and magnetic fields. The probe will orbit Uranus for several years and send an atmospheric probe into its sky laden with hydrogen sulfide.

The 780-page document comes after the Decadal Survey of Astronomical Targets, published In November. The new study outlines science priorities and funding recommendations for planetary science, astrobiology and planetary defense, as identified by hundreds of members in those fields.

“The recommended set of missions, high-priority research activities, and technological development will lead to transformative advances in human knowledge and understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system, and life and the possibility of habitation on other extraterrestrial bodies.” Robin Canopus, associate vice president of the Planetary Science Directorate at the Southwest Research Institute and co-chair of the survey’s steering committee, said in a statement from the National Academies.

The report is organized around 12 priority science topics, including questions about exoplanets and the structure of distant worlds, how our solar system began and evolved, and why life appeared on Earth (and how this can help us understand its potential). in another place).

The decadal survey recommends different missions within the various NASA programs. It says the main, top-priority mission for the next decade should be a probe of Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun.

The Uranus question was presented by a team led by Mark Hofstadter, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in White papers. The team concluded that the main goals should be to investigate the composition and composition of Uranus, the nature of its magnetic field, how its internal heat is transmitted to the surface, and the details of its atmosphere, moons, and ring system. As Gizmodo previously mentioned, Uranus smells like a fart. But certain details of the ice giant can be discerned only from a distance of 3 billion km, hence the need for more close-up observations.

The report says that a launch to Uranus between 2023 and 2032 could take place with launchers already available, and that if the mission departs in 2031 or 2032, it could take advantage of Jupiter’s gravity assist to speed up its flight.

The second highest priority mission should be the orbilander to Enceladus, according to the report. The Urpilaner is an orbiter and lander that will study Enceladus, an icy moon of Saturn. showed signs It can harbor microbial life.

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