Scientists plan Uranus probe
Proposed by British scientists as a joint effort of NASA and the European Space Agency, the mission would offer the first close-up view of Uranus in 25 years.
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“When you go to Uranus and Neptune you find their composition is dominated a lot more by rock and ice. There is a lot more water in their atmospheres, a lot more methane.”Skip to next paragraph
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He added: “One of the big mysteries about Uranus is that it doesn’t emit much heat at all. Its axis is also highly tilted to its orbit so essentially it rolls around the solar system.
“It is thought that something the size of Mars or Earth hit Uranus early in the solar system and tilted it into its side, and that may have caused a massive loss of primordial heat.”
Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the Sun which leads to extreme seasons. Dr Arridge said: “Because there is so little heat coming from inside Uranus, its atmosphere is completely driven by force of sunlight. And because it has got this large tilt in its axis one pole is continually in sunlight for 42 years while the other is in darkness and then the situation is reversed for 42 years.”
The nuclear-powered probe, which the scientists hope to launch in 2021 would take an incredible 15 years to travel the vast distance to Uranus. It will be sent zipping past other planets including Venus and Saturn to help build up speed, like a game of interplanetary snooker.
Finally it will go into orbit around Uranus to study the planet, its five main moons and other smaller natural satellites.
Uranus Pathfinder is being proposed as an M-class (medium-class) mission for ESA. But Dr Arridge said: “We see this as medium scale only in terms of price. For the amount of science you get back it is a large scale mission for quite low cost.”
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Paul Sutherland blogs at Skymania News
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