A Robotic Mission to Uranus Could Drive a Breakthrough in Extrasolar Planetary Studies

Thomas, Keyana, Astronomy, University of Virginia
Murphy, Edward, AS-Astronomy (ASTR), University of Virginia

The study of extrasolar planets is a young and growing field that has caught the attention of many astronomers and space scientists. The existence of other worlds many light years away in deep space is almost impossible to fathom. As technology advances, scientists are gaining the ability to locate and study these extrasolar planets in remarkable depth. Many of the extrasolar planets that scientists have discovered have proven to be of similar mass and density to the ice giants: Uranus and Neptune (Vision and Voyages 18). Unlike Jupiter and Saturn who have been studied by many spacecraft, these ice giants have only been studied by one spacecraft: Voyager 2. The ice giants are due for a revisit and a mission to Uranus presents as potentially more effective than a mission to Neptune. By studying Uranus in closer depth with advanced technology, astronomers can gain a better understanding of the characteristics of many of the extrasolar planets that have been discovered. Some of the instruments and methods used on the Jupiter and Saturn missions could inspire which instruments would prove most beneficial on a mission to Uranus. While the spacecraft is near the outer solar system, the instruments used on a mission to Uranus could also be used to study Uranus’ rings and moons via a flyby mission. Astronomers have yet to fully understand the characteristics of the gaseous extrasolar planets that have been discovered, but studying Uranus could provide clarity regarding these distant, yet familiar bodies.

BA (Bachelor of Arts)
Uranus, Exoplanets, Jovian Planets

School of Arts and Sciences; Bachelor of Arts in Astronomy; Advisor: Edward Murphy

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