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article imageScientists seek a return mission to Uranus

By Eileen Kersey     Jan 2, 2013 in Science
The last time that the "ice" planet Uranus was studied in depth was in the 1980s as part of the US Voyager missions. Scientists are now pushing for a return visit to Uranus.
"Space, the final frontier, to boldly go where no man has gone before." In the past mankind had the spirit of space adventure needed to break down "final frontiers", as declared in Star Trek. With so many pulls on finance, the space program dwindled and dropped down the list of US government priorities. As we enter 2013 could it be that once again there is the passion and interest to spark bigger and better space missions than ever before?
Certainly the 21st Century has already seen a surge in interest in space. With news that new comet ISON will be in Earth's inner solar system during 2013 many of us will be setting our sights on the skies.
however are pushing for missions that will include the often "neglected" planets of the solar system. The Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter have been studied many times but others such as Uranus receive little attention.
27 years ago Voyager 2 paid a brief visit to Uranus and scientists now want a return visit to see what if any changes have occurred. According to Mark Hofstadter, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, there is a great deal to warrant a visit to Uranus. "Uranus is a type of a planet that we know very little about," he says. "Thirty years ago we thought Uranus and Neptune were just smaller versions of Jupiter and Saturn." We now know that the outermost planets in our solar neighborhood are not gas giants filled with hydrogen and helium gas, but rather "ice giants" containing a large mixture of water, methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide. Current tallies of exoplanets suggest that ice giants are more common in our galaxy than the larger gas giants. "We'd like to study our local examples of this common type of planet," Hofstadter says.
According to NASA Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have flown by Uranus. The planet displayed little detail, but gave evidence of an ocean of boiling water about 800 km below the cloud tops. Curiously, the average temperature of its sun-facing pole was found to be the same as that of the equator. The spacecraft discovered 10 new moons, two new rings, and a strangely tilted magnetic field stronger than that of Saturn. A gravity assist at Uranus propelled the spacecraft toward its next destination, Neptune.
With funding cuts on the cards though will NASA be able to include Uranus in its mission plans? As reported on Digital Journal a human mission to Mars will be publicly funded.
More about Uranus, NASA, Space mission, mission to uruanus, Space
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