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Probing Uranus should be top priority: Scientists

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Probing Uranus should be top priority: Scientists

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Probing Uranus and Enceladus would greatly improve the understanding of the planet, as well as the extraterrestrial life in the hidden oceans of Enceladus.

Probing Uranus should be top priority: Scientists

Moving beyond the Moon and Mars, scientists say that sending a satellite to Uranus should be the highest priority in the next decade. The satellite would shed more information about the atmosphere and general knowledge of ice giants in particular, said scientists. The last time a spacecraft flew by Uranus was in 1986, when Voyager 2 went past it.

“The Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP) should be the highest priority large mission,” stated the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine this week. The report added that a launch of the UOP is viable within the 10 years based on the current availability of launchers.

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun in the Solar System, and is the third-largest planet in the solar system by radius and the fourth-largest by planetary mass. The planet is about four times wider than Earth, but has no solid defined surface as is characteristic of most gas giants. The planet’s atmosphere is mainly composed of hydrogen and helium, with a high presence of water, ammonia, and methane in their solid states as the temperature on the planet goes down to −224 °C. For this reason, Uranus along with Neptune is called an ice giant.

Apart from the icy-blue planet, the scientists in the report also suggested that the exploration of the moon Enceladus should be the second-highest priority in space exploration for NASA. Enceladus is the moon of the solar system’s sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest planet Saturn. The moon is covered in a layer of clear, fresh ice. NASA’s Cassini probe had found evidence of a massive ocean below the layer of ice on the moon in 2014. The probe had discovered water-rich plumes erupting out like geysers at the south polar region of the planet, which the scientists now want to investigate for signs of life through orbital and landed probes.

Apart from more distant missions, the report also justified the continued exploration of the Moon and Mars through the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) and the Lunar Discovery Exploration Program (LDEP). While the space organisation is currently working on sending astronauts to the Moon again by 2024 under the Artemis mission, NASA’s Perseverance rover travelled seven months to Mars and made its landing in Jezero Crater in February 2021.

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