Viewed from 600,000 miles beyond the planet on 25 January 1986 – a day after closest approach – this Voyager 2 image reveals Uranus as a mere sliver of a crescent. This was the last occasion on which human eyes would glimpse the strange, topsy-turvy world in close-up. Our next robotic visitor to the Uranian system may not come in any of our lifetimes. Photo Credit: NASA

A Bum Deal: ‘Boring’ Uranus Turns ‘Interesting’

By Ben Evans

Despite its long-suffering status as the ‘butt’ of many jokes, Uranus emerged from the shadows and entered the headlines this weekend, as it reached ‘opposition’: the position occupied when a celestial body is directly opposite the Sun, when viewed from Earth. Yet the prospects for future exploration of this strange, aquamarine-hued world remain shrouded in gloom and uncertainty. Last year, the National Research Council’s Planetary Science Decadal Survey for 2013-2022 identified a Uranus Orbiter and Probe as the third highest-priority exploration objective for a future flagship-type mission. NASA agreed, but the realities of the current fiscal environment have made it unlikely that such a voyage will be initiated in the near future.

More than two decades have passed since Voyager 2 flew past Uranus and revealed a bland, featureless globe, seemingly absent of major atmospheric activity. This contributed to the popular misconception that the planet was ‘boring’ and unworthy of further examination. The reality is quite different and in recent years calls from scientists from around the world to stage a dedicated mission to Uranus have intensified.

Read more: A Bum Deal: ‘Boring’ Uranus Turns ‘Interesting’ « AmericaSpace

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