NASA announces a new mission to explore Uranus, Neptune, or both.
According to the Examiner, NASA has announced plans to conduct and study a flagship mission to Uranus or Neptune, or both if given sufficient time and resources. The mission is estimated to cost less than $2 billion, the first NASA trip to Neptune in more than 26 years.
One of the research papers referenced in the proposal reports that “The composition and chemistry of ice giant atmospheres provides clues about their formation, evolution and current state.”
The mission to Neptune has been proposed after the conclusion of the New Horizons mission to Pluto. This would be particularly helpful since it could decrease the travel time to Uranus and Neptune without the requirement of gravity assistance.
In addition to giving more information about Neptune and Uranus themselves, this mission could also yield insight into the origins of life on Earth.
Triton, one of Neptune’s moons, is considered an “attractive destination” because of its retrograde orbit, a unique among moons in the solar system. Because of this anomoly, astronomers suspect that the moon is actually a captured Kuiper Belt object.
In addition to Triton, Uranus has five moons large enough to be spherical, making them choice targets for exploration as well. Earlier this year, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related agencies released a bill instructing NASA to create an Ocean World Exploration Program.