New Horizons probe will explore Uranus and Neptune

The New Horizons probe will turn its cameras towards Uranus and Neptune for their exploration. Scientists want to learn more about the release of heat on these planets. Hundreds of amateurs will help the spacecraft from Earth. 

New Horizons spacecraft. Source: NASA

New Horizons takes a look at Uranus and Neptune

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will try to look at Uranus and Neptune from an unusual angle. This probe is known for making a close flyby near Pluto in 2015, and after that it explored the outer regions of the Solar System. However, in recent years it has almost nothing to do.

Therefore, scientists decided to direct its gaze not outside, but inside the Solar System. They are interested in Uranus and Neptune. These planets are very far away from us, and the only spacecraft that has explored them up close still remains Voyager 2, which flew past them in the second half of the 1980s. Therefore, we have almost never seen what they look like if you look at them from the side opposite to the Sun.

New Horizons will be the first spacecraft to do this. Its MVIC multispectral survey camera is powerful enough to see these planets even from a very long distance, and perhaps it will allow scientists to solve one of the mysteries of the ice giants. 

Mystery of heat flow

First of all, scientists are interested in the atmospheres of planets and how they absorb and emit heat. They are also interested in how the heat flow passes through the rocky core of the planet. There is a mystery connected with the energy coming from inside the planet, the answer to which scientists want to get.

The fact is that Uranus radiates 2.5 times less heat into space than Neptune, despite being closer to the Sun. Why so, there are several versions. Perhaps there is some kind of layer inside it that blocks the passage of heat. Or a giant impact that turned the planet on its side millions of years ago, led to the instant loss of almost all the energy of its core.

Observations from the Earth

New Horizons should deal with all this. But it will not be done alone. From Earth’s orbit, it will be assisted by the Hubble Space Telescope. However, scientists pin their main hope on amateur astronomers. Those of them who have devices with a lens diameter of 16 inches, that is, 400 mm, will be able to join the observations.

It is best to observe both planets during their opposition, that is, when the Earth is exactly between them and the Sun. Fortunately, this year for Neptune and Uranus, this moment will come with a difference of only two months.

The opposition of Neptune will take place on September 19. At this time, it will be located in the constellation Aquarius and will have an apparent magnitude of +7.8. The best conditions for observing Uranus will come on November 13, when it will be in the constellation Aries and will have a brightness of +5.7.

According to

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