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Neptune seen by Voyager 2 in 1989. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kevin M. Gill
Uranus and Neptune — the long-neglected ice giants in the outer solar system — could be the keys to unlocking the mysteries of planets far from our solar system.
Why it matters: Scientists have found a whole bunch of planets around the size of Neptune orbiting stars light-years from our own, so learning more about our own ice giants could help us piece together exactly what's going on with those distant worlds.
The big picture: Today, planetary scientists are pushing NASA and other space agencies to explore those worlds at close range with orbiter or flyby missions.
Where it stands: Some of the most common types of alien planets found by the Kepler Space Telescope were around the size of Neptune or slightly smaller, showing that planets the size of the ice giant are likely pretty plentiful in our galaxy.
Yes, but: Although scientists are hopeful that the next mission priorities set by the scientific community will prioritize Uranus or Neptune, the funding will need to compete with other planetary priorities like Mars.
The intrigue: Sending a mission to Neptune or Uranus wouldn't just be about worlds far from our own solar system. These 2 planets could help scientists fill in major gaps in the history of our solar system in general.
The bottom line: A mission out to the ice giants could help scientists piece together our solar system's history while answering some basic questions about Uranus and Neptune as well as other worlds far from our own.
Uranus as seen by Voyager 2 in 1986. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Scientists hope that if a major mission to Uranus or Neptune does get approved, it will be a long-term visit, not just a flyby.
Background: Over the years, researchers have floated a number of mission concepts that would allow space agencies to study the planets at close range for several years.
Details: Getting a close-up look at the moons and rings of Neptune and Uranus would go a long way toward helping researchers understand the outer solar system as a whole.
Yes, but: Even if a mission is chosen in the next decade, it's not as if we'll be studying the ice giants from close range immediately.
Illustration of a lander and astronauts on the moon. Photo: NASA
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Friday that the space agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama will take the lead in developing the Artemis lunar lander.
Why it matters: NASA wants to deliver astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024, and the lunar lander is an integral part of that plan. Being chosen as the lead for the development of the lander system will bring money and jobs to Marshall.
Details: In a letter to Bridenstine, Texas lawmakers suggested that the agency should have chosen Johnson to play a more prominent role in the development of the lander due to its history as the heart of NASA's human spaceflight operations.
Context: These kinds of conflicts have cropped up ever since the end of the Apollo program, according to John Logsdon, the founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.
The LIGO detector in Louisiana. Photo: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab
Astronomers think they've detected the ripples in space and time sent out by a black hole and neutron star colliding.
The big picture: Scientists have detected gravitational waves sent out by 2 black holes merging and 2 neutron stars merging, but if confirmed, this will be the first detection of a black hole and neutron star colliding.
Why it matters: Astronomers hope that the Aug. 14 detection will help them learn more about both black holes and neutron stars, the super dense remnants of dead stars.
Details: Researchers aren’t yet sure of the exact size of the black hole or neutron star that sent out the gravitational waves, but further analysis could help determine the masses of the two objects.
How it works: The two LIGO detectors in Washington and Louisiana and the Virgo detector in Italy are responsible for listening for gravitational waves emitted by cosmic crashes as they move through our part of space.
An Electron rocket taking flight from New Zealand on Monday. Photo: Rocket Lab
Newt Gingrich trying to sell Trump on a cheap Moon plan (Bryan Bender, Politico)
Why stowaway creatures on the Moon confound international space law (Loren Grush, The Verge)
Rocket Lab Electron booster launches 4 satellites into orbit (Elizabeth Howell, Space.com)
Chinese commercial rocket Smart Dragon-1 reaches orbit (Andrew Jones, Space News)
This photo, taken from the International Space Station by European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, shows the "terminator" — the dividing line between day and night from space.
1 fun thing: Parmitano became the first person to DJ from space last week. Using an iPad, the astronaut played a set for a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
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