June 26, 2022

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Why NASA is considering a trip to the mysterious planet

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Uranus, the seventh planet in our solar system, could become the subject of NASA’s next orbit mission if it follows the recommendations released Tuesday by the American Scientific Society. Learning more about Uranus will raise the screen of one of the gray areas of our solar system and, perhaps, better understand the Exoplanets.

It’s time to go back or actually go there. NASA’s next major space mission will focus on the planet Uranus. This is a recommendation made by the American National Academy of Sciences, at least on Tuesday, April 19th In their 10 Year Report on US Space Priorities. In the past, the advice always followed by the American space agency.

Man has only visited this far-flung neighbor of the solar system, which is slightly closer to the Sun than Neptune. The Voyager 2 spacecraft approached it in a matter of hours. January 24, 1986. In other words, we know nothing about Uranus.

Uranus is a unique planet in more ways than one

It is defined as the coldest planet in the solar system with an atmospheric temperature of about 220 degrees Celsius. One year on Uranus – the time it takes to orbit the Sun – is also known to last 84 Earth years. According to some data collected – by ‘Voyager’ research or telescope observations – its surface is not solid and There will be oceans of liquid diamond.

“Actually, we do not know about its composition and its name may have been hijacked by an ice giant,” said Ravit Held, a planetary scientist in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Zurich, who was contacted by France 24.

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These unknowns are one of the main reasons that justify a great mission to travel to Uranus. Although missions to Mars or the Moon have grown and begun to gather accurate information about other stars and exoplanets, there are still completely gray areas in our own solar system. “It’s like we’re telling you there’s still an unknown ocean on earth, wouldn’t you like to explore it?” Asks Laurent Lamie, an astronomer at the Paris Laboratory who was contacted by France 24.

This natural curiosity for our “immediate” environment – the most relevant concept as Uranus is located between 2.6 billion and 3.2 billion kilometers from Earth – is fostered by the unique properties of the planet. Especially its rotation: it rotates on its horizontal axis without being as vertical as all other known planets. As a result, it looks like a ball rolling around in the sun. “According to the generally accepted theory, collision with another celestial body is a phenomenon,” explains planetary scientist Ravit Held.

Scientists are not the only ones interested in the planet. Many of these moons – including the names of 27 Shakespearean characters and the works of the British poet Alexander Pope – also obscure many mysteries. For example, some marine worlds appear to have life forms, and “exploring them will allow us to learn more about where they can live in our galaxy,” says Chloe Beddingfield, an astronomer at the Ames Research Center in California. Interviewed by Space.com.

A “missing link”

Laurent Lamy promises that Uranus – with Neptune – is “a missing link in our understanding of the planets in space”. They are often called “mini-Saturns” or “Super Earths” because they are an intermediate size (four times larger than Earth). But in reality, it is not just a question of size, they are only two representatives of our solar system.

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The significance of these “Uranus-like” planets grew only with the discovery of exoplanets [qui se trouvent en dehors de notre système solaire]. These observations indicate that “planets of a size and density comparable to Uranus appear to be the most common in space,” says Ravit Held. After all, more than Earth-like planets or Saturn-capable giants.

Thus, an orbital mission around Uranus could “conclude our understanding of the various planetary systems that are accessible in our solar system and create an appropriate reading point for analyzing distant systems,” Laurent Lamy summarizes.

If Uranus can prove to be so unique and the key to a better understanding of the greater number of exoplanets, why did you wait so long to decide to go there? “Going to a planet in the outer solar system is technically very complicated [à partir de Jupiter] We are just starting to do that, “said Ravit Held.

A long and expensive bet

Getting there is already an adventure. Prepare a task for the still unknown depths of the solar system – determine scientific objectives, the most suitable tools, the missile for research, etc. – According to the American National Academy of Sciences, it should be about ten years. The journey would take another ten years, while in 1969 it took only four days to reach the moon.

Finally, the study will be in orbit for another decade to make the trip profitable and get the maximum amount of data. Therefore, it is essential to provide a long lasting energy source without the risk of breakage or damage. “This seems to be an important technological challenge and the best solution nuclear pile. This is one of the reasons why NASA, with this technology called Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (or RTG), embarked on a pre-adventure in Europe. Lami mentions.

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So this is a long-term task that can be costly. NASA estimates that such a project would cost at least $ 4.2 billion, with results that have not worked for decades. In the end, this is one of the most daring races of NASA and the academies of science: in a world dominated by the immediate need for everything that everyone wants immediately, starting a mission to Uranus will prove that there are still areas. In this we can take our time to improve human knowledge.