Planetary scientists have highlighted the need for missions to explore Uranus and Neptune, the most distant planets in the Solar System. According to a new article led by Deniz Soyuer, a researcher at the University of Zurich (Switzerland), the development of a possible new probe could help reveal mysteries of the Universe, especially in the study of gravitational waves – ripples in space-time, produced by explosions and collisions of massive bodies, such as neutron stars and black holes.
During the activity period, monitoring variations in radio signals on board a potential space vehicle could identify the origin of a variety of events that are still unknown, in a totally different way from the current observation capacity. According to research analyzes, probes for this purpose could detect a few dozen black hole fusions with extreme mass differences, and at least the fusion of a supermassive.
Known as “ice giants” because of their compositions dominated by water ices and ammonia, Uranus and Neptune have not received much attention from the scientific community since the Voyager project, launched in 1977. The mission in this region was interrupted at the end from the 1980s, therefore, studies on Earth about characteristics of planets are raised only by terrestrial telescopes and occasional glimpses from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
The lack of incentives and difficulties for research is due to the fact that both places are very far from Earth: the closest point is 4.3 billion kilometers away. However, Soyuer stressed that there will soon be an opportunity to reduce an orbiter’s travel time.
He indicates that, with the approach of a Jupiter alignment, a gravitational assistance will occur that should increase the speed of movement of a vehicle in space. Thus, he proposed the idea of creating a new mission to study low-frequency gravitational waves en route to the lesser-known planets in the Solar System.
The researcher says that, in this condition, if there is a sufficiently powerful rocket launch in early 2030, the possible vehicle could reach the orbit of the gas giant in just under two years. In its construction, it could be composed of a joint system, in which two components would later be separated and destined for Uranus, reaching its orbit in 2042, and Neptune, a few years later.
Soyuer adds that the operation could sustain activities for another decade, and would result in the largest space observatories of gravitational waves in the world. During the course, scientists and technicians on Earth would constantly communicate with the spacecraft, to update their trajectory and check their status, at the same time that they would receive data from the probes.
Despite the idea, the scholar points out that the biggest challenge will be to develop appropriate technologies to monitor the frequency of radio communications in high precision. In this case, it will be necessary to apply resources to design more sensitive detectors of gravitational waves in space.