(WTVO) — NASA is planning to target Uranus for exploration in its next “flagship” mission in 2031 or 2032.
The probe would take 13 years to reach its destination, in 2044.
“The ice giant Uranus is one of the most enigmatic and least explored bodies in the solar system,” NASA said in its concept study. “Many of its characteristics, including its axial tilt, energy balance, atmospheric dynamics and complex magnetic field, present major puzzles. Its five large icy satellites represent potential ocean worlds, with some displaying surprising degrees of geological activity. And Uranus is arguably the closest analog we have to the most common exoplanets.”
The space agency wants to discover answers to questions about Uranus’ origins, habitability, and others that have perplexed scientists for centuries.
Uranus was discovered in March 1781 by astronomer William Herschel, who earned knighthood for his discovery.
Unlike other planets in the solar system, Uranus lies on its side, while others spin like tops, according to The Guardian. It is also the coldest planet orbiting the sun, but not the farthest away.
Uranus is classified as an ice giant, due to being formed mostly from icy material. It lies with Neptune at the edge of the solar system.
Pluto, declassified as a planet by the International Astronomical Union in 2006, lies beyond.
A mission to study Uranus would have to use gravity from Jupiter to make it to its destination, which means the mission would have to launch between 2031 and 2032, according to NASA.
A main craft would orbit the planet while a probe would be dropped into its atmosphere to look at its composition, with the study expected to take 4.5 years to complete. Uranus has four moons, which scientists believe may have been ocean worlds in the past.
The Voyager 2 space probe flew by Uranus in 1986.