When spacecraft return to Earth, they don’t need to shed all their velocity by firing retro-rockets. Instead, they use the atmosphere as a brake to slow down for a soft landing. Every planet in the Solar System except Mercury has enough of an atmosphere to allow aerocapture maneuvers, and could allow high-speed exploration missions. A new paper looks at the different worlds and how a spacecraft must fly to take advantage of this “free lunch” to slow down at the destination.
Our Solar System’s ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, have been largely left out of the planetary probe game. While all of the other planets—including even the demoted Pluto—have been the subjects of dedicated missions, the ice giants have not. In fact, the only spacecraft to ever even fly by Uranus and Neptune was Voyager 2 in the late 1980s.
Uranus takes 84 years to orbit the Sun, and so that last time that planet’s north polar region was pointed at Earth, radio telescope technology was in its infancy.
But now, scientists have been using radio telescopes like the Very Large Array (VLA) the past few years as Uranus has slowly revealing more and more of its north pole. VLA microwave observations from 2021 and 2022 show a giant cyclone swirling around this region, with a bright, compact spot centered at Uranus’ pole. Data also reveals patterns in temperature, zonal wind speed and trace gas variations consistent with a polar cyclone.
The study of ocean worlds, planetary bodies with potential interior reservoirs of liquid water, has come to the forefront in terms of astrobiology and the search for life beyond Earth. From Jupiter’s Galilean Moons to Saturn’s Titan and Mimas to Neptune’s Triton and even Pluto, scientists are craving to better understand if these worlds truly possess interior bodies of liquid water. But what about Uranus and its more than two dozen moons? Could they harbor interior oceans, as well?
The James Webb Space Telescope has taken a stunning new image of the ice giant world Uranus. But what stands out most is the dramatic new view of the planet’s rings, which show up as never before with JWST’s infrared eyes.
Instead of being faint and wispy, the rings show up brilliantly. Additionally, bright, luminous features in the planet’s atmosphere show how an extensive storm system at the north pole of this planet getting larger and brighter.
But you’ll also want to see the full-frame image view, which also shows the six largest of Uranus’ 27 known moons. And, as we’ve become accustomed to seeing in JWST images, several distant background galaxies. Yes, every JWST image is a Deep Field!
A couple times a year, the Hubble Space Telescope turns its powerful gaze on the giant planets in the outer Solar System, studying their cloudtops and weather systems. With the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) Program, Hubble provides us with these views and also delivers weather reports on what’s happening. Here’s an updated report and some new images of the stormy surfaces of Jupiter and Uranus.
In a recent study published in The Planetary Science Journal, a pair of researchers led by The Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute in California investigated the potential origin for the thick regolith deposits on Uranus’ moon, Miranda. The purpose of this study was to determine Miranda’s internal structure, most notably its interior heat, which could help determine if Miranda harbors—or ever harbored—an internal ocean.
It’s been over 35 years since a spacecraft visited Uranus and Neptune. That was Voyager 2, and it only did flybys. Will we ever go back? There are discoveries waiting to be made on these fascinating ice giants and their moons.
But complex missions to Mars and the Moon are eating up budgets and shoving other endeavours aside.
A new paper shows how we can send spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune cheaply and quickly without cutting into Martian and Lunar missions.
Uranus and Neptune are similar planets in many ways. Both are ice giant worlds, both have atmospheres rich in methane, and both have a bluish color. But while Uranus has a pale blue-green hue, Neptune has a deep blue color. But why? Why would two planets so similar in size and composition appear so different? According to a recent study, the answer lies in their aerosols.
If we had to rely solely on spacecraft to learn about the outer planets, we wouldn’t be making great progress. It takes a massive effort to get a spacecraft to the outer Solar System. But thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, we can keep tabs on the gas giants without leaving Earth’s orbit.