Support grows for a return to ice giants Uranus and Neptune | Science News


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Support grows for a return to ice giants Uranus and Neptune

The solar system's two most distant worlds may be ready to give up their secrets

6:30am, February 10, 2016
Uranus and Neptune

THE OTHER BLUE PLANETS  Uranus (left) and Neptune (right) have not been visited since Voyager 2 sped by in the late 1980s. Many researchers argue that it’s time to go back.

In the cold periphery of the solar system, two enigmatic sentinels saunter around the sun. One circuit along their vast orbits takes on the order of a century. Seasons are measured in decades. At such great distances from Earth, these worlds give up their secrets slowly. While every other planet in our solar system has been repeatedly poked and prodded by orbiters and landers, Neptune and Uranus, save a brief tour in the 1980s, remain largely unexplored.

Thirty years ago, the Voyager 2 spacecraft tore past Uranus, then flew by Neptune less than four years later. These quick sojourns introduced scientists to two planets that had been vague blue splotches in their telescopes. In the years since, bigger and better instruments have teased out a bit more information and revealed a few surprises.

But there’s only so much planetary scientists can learn from a couple billion kilometers away. That’s why researchers in both the United States and Europe think it’s

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