Why We Need To Explore Neptune and Uranus

July 2, 2017

Could there be life on Neptune or Uranus? Scientifically speaking, it is unlikely. Almost all the scientists agree. With a surface temperature that is likely colder than -200℃ as well as ammonia and very little sunlight, both those planets would be unsuitable for Earth life.


               Photo: Wikipedia


We do know that there is water on both planets. Unfortunately, we only have evidence that it is in their atmospheres in the form of ice crystals and with surface temperatures being so cold, it is hard to imagine their being liquid water on the surface.


The problem with this question is that we know so little about either of those two planets. The closest we’ve been to them was a Voyager 2 flyby, which occurred in 1989. We have not been able to explore those two planets up close since then.


It’s not just Neptune and Uranus that are interesting in that area. Both those planets have interesting moons that scientists have strong interests in. Neptune’s moon, Triton, is of particular interest to scientists. Some speculate that there may be a subterranean ocean underneath its surface.


              Photo: Wikipedia


One of the many problems with exploring these planets is getting there. When the New Horizons probe traveled to Pluto, it took five years to get to Uranus’s orbit and eight years to get to Neptune’s. In addition, both those planets are far from the sun, so they couldn’t just rely on solar panels. A probe would need nuclear power so that it could travel around Neptune or Uranus when it gets there. And unfortunately, creating a nuclear-powered probe can take a lot of time and money. New Horizons took six years to make and cost over $700 million.


At one point, scientists at NASA contemplated launching a probe to that region of the Solar System. It was named Argo. Argo had a launch window between 2015 and 2020. But they faced a big obstacle with plutonium-238, which would be needed to power the probe, being in short supply due to international treaties.


Unfortunately, due to the alignment of planets, traveling to Neptune in particular will become much more difficult after the 2040s, according to NewScientist.This is why it would be good for NASA and other space agencies to begin to prioritize traveling to that area of the solar system now. Otherwise, we are going to have to wait a very long time before we can explore those planets. Given the changes in technology between the 1980s and now, there is a lot we can learn by sender newer probes over there to collect data on those planets.


We know far less about Neptune, Uranus, and their surrounding moons than we do about the other planets in our Solar System. This is why we should begin to explore that region now, before we have to wait another couple decades to do so. Exploring those two planets could gives us a much better understanding of the origins of the Solar System and allow us to better answer the question of whether life exists on those two planets.


Ryan King is an aspiring journalist. Aside from people, there are three things in life that he cares about: politics, comic books, and computers. In all of these areas, he tries his best to present contrarian views and be an effective devil’s advocate. It is also his goal to spotlight important stories or ideas that don’t get a lot of attention.

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