The natural satellites of Uranus, which have not yet been studied in detail and from a short distance, deserve further attention, He said this Thursday to Forbes the astronomer Richard Cartwright, one of the authors of a recent mission proposal, published en la revista The Planetary Science Journal.
In total, it is known 27 moons orbiting the seventh planet in the solar system, which were photographed for the only time in 1986 by NASA’s Voyager 2 probe. Despite the enormous distance from the planet, which is almost 20 times greater than the one that separates the Earth from the Sun, the five largest –Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberón– “have dark surfaces, which could be rich in organic matter“, highlights the scientist.
“From previous space probe missions, we have good data on organic-rich material in other parts of the solar system, but the nature of organic matter on the moons of Uranus not well understood at all“Cartwright notes.
The images captured by Voyager 2 cover only one side of the satellites. However, they show a fascinating relief. Thus, in Miranda and Ariel there is evidence of a underground ocean and in Umbriel they see large craters with shiny ground. Finally, Titania and Oberon show signs of a tectonic activity and cryovolcanism.
“The glimpses we got from the southern hemispheres of Uranus’ large moons with Voyager 2 are absolutely fascinating, particularly those of Ariel and Miranda. Those moons are strange worlds and their study has the potential to provide a new perspective on how geological processes operate on icy moons, “says the astronomer.
As for the tools needed to observe the moons, Cartwright believes that the probe should include a magnetometer, infrared and visible spectrum cameras, and a spectrometer. It could study not only the satellites themselves, but also the rings of Uranus.
However, the question is one of time: to take advantage of a rare alignment of Neptune, Uranus and Jupiter, which would considerably facilitate flight, the probe has to be launched. between 2030 and 2034. In that case, it will complete the journey, of about 2,900 million kilometers, in 11 years. That is, the device must be designed and built in the next 13 years, at most.
“Uranus is very far away, between 2.6 and 3.2 billion kilometers from Earth, depending on where you are. […] Designing a spacecraft and instrument suite to travel to the Uranus system is certainly feasible, but the great distance presents challenges that will need to be addressed by any mission that aims to explore the moons of Uranus, “says Cartwright, while waiting for NASA to overcome obstacles.
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