This planet may be NASA’s next big mission (and there are other destinations to discover)

The mysterious and icy worlds of our solar system should be a priority for exploration, according to a new report published Tuesday.

Recommends the study of the planets of the first decimal Uranus probe and probe as NASA’s next big mission. The spacecraft will make an orbital visit to the ice giant during its approach and deposit a probe to explore the planet’s seventh atmosphere from the Sun. And launching it in 2031 or 2032 is “possible,” according to the report’s authors.

According to the report, searching for evidence of life on Saturn’s moon Enceladus should be NASA’s second priority. Enceladus has a liquid ocean beneath an icy crust, and Enceladus Orbelander will orbit the moon and land on the surface, studying plumes of water rising through cracks in the ice crust.

The study, conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, also identifies other science priorities for the next decade, including planetary defense against near-Earth objects, a new approach to the study of Mars, and other exploration and sampling. worlds. This report differs from the Astro2020 decimal study, published in November, which focuses more on unraveling the mysteries of the universe and identifying worlds outside our solar system.

Robin Canopus, vice president of the Planetary Science Directorate at Southwest Research Institute and co-chair of the National Academies’ Decadal Survey Guidelines, said in a statement.

under the ice

The report’s authors see Uranus as a way to revolutionize astronomers’ knowledge of ice giants in general. Our solar system consists of two, Uranus and Neptune, both made of ice, methane, and ammonia with a small rocky core. Only one mission passed on the two planets: NASA’s Voyager 2 in 1989. The rest of what scientists know about these distant planets has been gathered through telescopes like Hubble.

But no mission has studied Uranus so closely and in detail.

It’s a little weird, turning to the sides. It has 13 rings, 27 moons, and is greenish-blue in color due to methane in its atmosphere. The planet has no real surface, as most of its components are circular fluids.

Scientists are interested to learn about the dynamics of the atmosphere, the complex magnetic field, and what created the extreme tilts and loops. In addition, some of the larger moons orbiting the planet may be oceanic worlds.

Uranus Orbiter and Probe can get more information about the origin, interior, atmosphere, moons and rings of the planet.

However, planetary scientists have been hoping for years to drive a spacecraft through the plumes of gas and energetic particles blasting from Enceladus’ inner ocean. Enceladus Orbilander can study whether the moon’s ocean is habitable.

The Enceladus mission will search for evidence of life and determine the possibility of life in the ocean world. If the mission is to begin at the end of this decade, it will likely reach the distant moon in early 2050. There is also a proposal for a separate mission that could make multiple flights on Enceladus if Orbilander is not feasible.

Other destinations

The report also recommends that NASA send missions to sample the dwarf planet Ceres, as well as the surface of a comet. The Ceres mission can assess whether the dwarf planet, which lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is habitable.

Other missions on the list include a Venus explorer, a probe that flies through Saturn’s atmosphere, and an orbiter around Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan is intriguing researchers because its dense atmosphere contains prebiotic molecules, which are similar to the way Earth’s atmosphere began before life emerged. The Titan mission will investigate the possibility of the moon harboring life.

The report suggests sending an orbiter and a probe to one of the centaurs, or small, primitive bodies of ice found between Jupiter and Neptune.

As far as Mars is concerned, the authors recommend continuing with the current rover program and the multi-stage mission to bring samples from Mars to Earth. But they also encourage the creation of the Mars Life Explorer, a mission that searches for current life and determines whether life is possible on Mars today.

There is also a desire to ensure that scientific effort is maximized as humans return to the Moon through NASA’s Artemis program, sampling the Moon and assembling surface instruments that can reveal more about its history.

Understanding more about NEOs, such as tracking and detecting space rocks that could pose a threat to Earth, is a clear priority. The authors recommend that NASA develop and launch the NEO Surveyor, an infrared mission that could provide a better basis for modeling and predicting the motions of NEOs. In turn, this information will help in planning diversion missions.

Once NASA’s DART mission, or the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, and the Near-Earth Object Surveyor provide the data, the next steps will be a responsive reconnaissance mission to target a near-Earth object between 50 and 100 meters in diameter. These objects are more likely to cause mass destruction if they hit the ground.

“The recommended set of missions, high-priority research activities, and technology development will lead to transformative advances in human knowledge and understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system, and the life and potential of other bodies beyond Earth,” Canopus said.

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