Solar System, Uranus

NASA Wants To Search For Gas In Uranus

Settle down folks, this is science. A recent report details NASA’s  potential plans for missions to Neptune and Uranus in the future. One of the primary science directives of these missions, will be to send an atmospheric probe to Uranus in order to sample its gasses and elements.

Compared to Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, and Saturn, we know little about Uranus and Neptune. We need to undertake more missions to the gas giants in order to increase our knowledge of the planets and their respective atmospheres. The Uranus mission is targeted for 2030-2036, and the Neptune mission for 2040.

One of the gas giants’ mysteries is the true composition of their interiors. Jonathan Fortney, a professor at UC Santa Cruz tells the Verge that there is likely a unique composition for each planet:

“The curious thing about Uranus and Neptune is that, although they look very similar, something about their interiors is actually quite a bit different,”

The only vehicle to visit Uranus and Neptune was Voyager 2 launched in 1977. The probe only had a brief fly-by opportunity before using the planet’s gravity to slingshot into inter stellar space. We came within 50,000 miles of Uranus and 3,000 miles of Neptune, but that’s the closest we’ve ever been.

Below you can find a mission concept analysis summary of the probes NASA wants to use for the mission. The mission calls for three probes to Uranus, and one sent to Neptune.

The different missions that the recent NASA report details. (NASA)

Four missions have been proposed, yet it’s likely that only one is chosen due to socio-economic restraints. There’s an optimal launch window between 2029 and 2034 that would allow us to send probes to the planets in 10-13 years time – and while our current planetary target is Mars, our scientific horizons are likely to shift to the gas giants in the near future.

“I think those are going to be some of the main science targets of the next decade,” Fortney says.

This is a composite image of Uranus by Voyager 2 and two different observations made by Hubble — one for the ring and one for the auroras. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Lamy / Observatoire de Paris
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Jamie is an amateur astronomer and every day space geek.