Scientists want to send a research probe to Uranus

Scientists want to send a research probe to Uranus

While the probes have already been sent to Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, in the outermost parts of the solar system the giants Neptune and Uranus have never received even a dedicated visitor to search for them on site.

However, in a new report setting top priorities for planetary science and astrobiology, a panel of experts from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends correcting this omission.

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Together with Neptune, Uranus is one of only two planets that have yet to be seen by probes dedicated to the study. Image: IncrediVFX – istockphoto

As such, the committee has placed sending a probe to Uranus a top priority within the next decade. The report is titled “Origins, Worlds and Life: A Decadal Strategy for Planetary Science and Astrobiology 2023-2032”, commissioned by NASA, with the aim of identifying the most important scientific goals for the next ten years.

“The committee prioritizes Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP) as the new mission with the highest priority for initiation in the decade 2023-2032,” the report read.

The report recommends an orbital excursion to Uranus for an unprecedented study of its atmosphere and moons

The probe sent to Uranus would have embarked on a multi-year orbital tour of the planet, probing its atmosphere, with the aim of providing an unprecedented wealth of information on the ice giant and its moons.

Ocean worlds are of great interest to astrobiologists, who believe that in the depths of the oceans of these geologically active bodies, volcanic vents can allow entire ecosystems based on a chemosynthetic food web to thrive, just like d hydrothermal air here on Earth.

These bodies, many of which have been identified in the solar system, are the most promising candidates for finding extraterrestrial life.

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On that note, the committee identified the oceanic world Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, as its second highest priority, with a mission called Enceladus Orbilander. This ice-covered body has been observed to emit plumes of vapor into space from its internal ocean. Sampling these plumes could assess the habitability of Enceladus’s ocean and perhaps even detect signs of life within.

The cost of a mission to Uranus could exceed $ 4 billion (more than R $ 18.4 billion), but the potential scientific gain would be priceless. So, too, could be the gain from a thorough exploration of Enceladus.

The two top priorities in the previous version of the report (2013-2022) were a sample return mission from Mars and a mission to the moon Europa, which orbits Jupiter and hosts an alleged internal ocean. Both are under development.

Other recommendations in the new report include the continuation of the Champion’s return mission to Mars (and the restoration of the Mars exploration program as a whole), continued support for lunar exploration, and, for the first time, program enhancement. of NASA to find and track asteroids that pose a threat to life on Earth.

“This report outlines an ambitious but achievable vision for advancing the frontiers of planetary science, astrobiology and planetary defense over the next decade,” said astrophysicist Robin Canup, director of planetary sciences at the Southwest Research Institute and co- chairman of the director committee of the National Academy for Decennial Research.

“This recommended portfolio of missions, high-priority research and technological development will produce transformative advances in human knowledge and understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system, life and habitability of bodies other than Earth,” he said. Canup explained.

Click here to access the full report.

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