Atmospheric Science Questions for a Uranian Probe

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Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


The Ice Giants represent a unique and relatively poorly characterized class of planets that have been largely unexplored since the brief Voyager 2 flyby in the late 1980s. Uranus is particularly enigmatic, due to its extreme axial tilt, offset magnetic field, apparent low heat budget, mysteriously cool stratosphere and warm thermosphere, as well as a lack of well-defined, long-lived storm systems and distinct atmospheric features. All these characteristics make Uranus a scientifically intriguing target, particularly for missions able to complete in situ measurements. The 2023-2032 Decadal Strategy for Planetary Science and Astrobiology prioritized a flagship orbiter and probe to explore Uranus with the intent to “..transform our knowledge of Ice Giants in general and the Uranian system in particular” (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Origins, worlds, and life: a decadal strategy for planetary science and astrobiology 2023-2032, The National Academies Press, Washington, 2022). In support of this recommendation, we present community-supported science questions, key measurements, and a suggested instrument suite that focuses on the exploration and characterization of the Uranian atmosphere by an in situ probe. The scope of these science questions encompasses the origin, evolution, and current processes that shape the Uranian atmosphere, and in turn the Uranian system overall. Addressing these questions will inform vital new insights about Uranus, Ice Giants and Gas Giants in general, the large population of Neptune-sized exoplanets, and the Solar System as a whole.

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Space Science Reviews