The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have released their newest decadal survey. Apparently, at the top of the list of priorities is a goal to probe Uranus. The report, which was published this year, calls for a spacecraft to orbit Uranus. That spacecraft would then map its gravitational and magnetic fields. It would circle the planet for multiple years. During that time, it could deliver an atmospheric probe to the planet to study it.
Why US science advisors want to probe Uranus so badly
Despite being the seventh planet in our solar system, there’s very little we know about Uranus as a whole. In fact, one of the best images we have of the planet was captured in 1986 by the Voyager 2. Now, though, science advisors in the United States want to probe Uranus and learn more about it.
They want to learn more about it so much, in fact, that they have described it as one of the highest priority space missions to be carried out in the next decade. The overall goal of sending a probe to Uranus would be to investigate the overall structure and makeup of the planet. This includes its magnetic field, and how the planet’s internal heat moves to the surface.
Additionally, scientists want to learn more about the various moons that surround the planet. We also know very little about the ring system that surrounds the blue planet. A team led by Mark Hofstadter, a planetary scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab wrote a white paper on their goals.
Getting to Uranus
Because of how far away Uranus is, the Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to fly close to and study the planet. As such, there’s very little we know about it. That’s why scientists want to expand our knowledge of the planet. And, to do so, it wants to push a high priority mission to the seventh planet in our solar system.
But, finding a way to probe Uranus isn’t as difficult as you might think. We currently already have the tech we need to get a spacecraft there that can orbit the planet. Additionally, scientists have found that launching a mission in 2031 would allow us to capitalize on gravity assistance from Jupiter. That would help hasten the journey, making the spacecraft arrive at its destination more quickly.
We know that Uranus was impacted by a large object a long time ago in the past. But we don’t really know the possible long-term effects that could have had on the planet. Being able to probe Uranus and actually study the atmosphere and planet’s surface could help us better understand those long-term effects.
But scientists are intrigued by more than just Uranus. They also want to launch a mission to Enceladus, an icy moon that orbits Saturn. This moon has shown signs that it could sustain microbial life, which has no doubt piqued several scientists’ interest. Ultimately, it’s unclear whether scientists will get to probe Uranus within the next decade. But, it does sound like they’re going to try their hardest.