January 21, 2022

Beyond Going Long

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An opportunity that appears once every 113 “generations”. We have a unique opportunity to learn how the solar system appeared

Many asteroids and asteroids have been in the sights of astronomers for a long time. He doesn’t always think only of Potential danger of hitting the ground , but also the amount of precious metals you give Often times we can just be quietly envious.

Our Lord Dirovala Pluto

However, these things aren’t just dangerous bits of space rock or “volatile precious metals”. It is also an opportunity to learn a lot of useful information about how our solar system came to be.

Illustration of the ninth planet. Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC)

As the gate writes Phys, within a few years, scientists will have a unique opportunity to explore one of these extremely rare objects. It’s an object called 90377 Sedna, a transpton object discovered by astronomer Mike Brown and colleagues at Caltech.

If the name Mike Brown sounds familiar to you, know that Brown, along with Konstantin Batygin, were the first astronomers to be mentioned Virtual Planet Nine. It is said that this so far undiscovered purely hypothetical planet is located on the outer part of the solar system, and according to the latest calculations, it may be closer than we think.

Mike Brown is also associated with another astrological body. This guy made sure Pluto got off the school curriculum and the planets list. It was the planet Sedna, along with other large bodies such as Haumea, Makemake, and Eris, that played a major role in the decline of Pluto from the “only” planet to the dwarf planet in 2006.

The planet is constantly approaching the sun

Sedna is currently on its way to perihelion (the point in its orbit where it is closest to the sun). It will reach this in the year 2076 and then plunge again into the depths of space for thousands of years. This trans-Neptunian body has a highly elongated elliptical orbit with a length of 11,390 years.

Dwarf planet Ceres / Source: NASA

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Sedna is about the size of the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object orbiting between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, but its origin and composition are completely different. While Ceres apparently Under the surface of a huge oceanSedna is probably covered with dark red organic compounds known as tholin.

The tholines are a group of heterogeneous organic compounds formed in Nitrogen irradiation with solar radiation, along with organic compounds such as methane. Although the presence of tholins was excluded due to the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere on our planet, it was previously confirmed on the dwarf planet Pluto or the moon Titan.

However, unlike Pluto, Sedna is usually too cold for the methane on its surface to evaporate and fall back as snow. However, everything may change for a short while as Sedna approaches the sun.

However, what is really striking about Sedna is not its chemical composition, but the previously mentioned ethnogenic pathway. To this day, it is basically unknown how this astronomical body reached the orbit that leads to the inner edge of the Oort Cloud – the farthest part of the Solar System, Where does the biggest known comet come from?. However, there are many theories, and according to the most famous of them, Sedna was put forward by the hypothetical planet Nine.

We will never have such an opportunity again

According to the calculations of Vladislav Zubek’s team in the study published on the preprint server arXivAnd Now we have a unique opportunity to send a mission to the planet Sedna. This is an opportunity that scientists say will only happen once every 113 generations, so we must act fast. The start date of the mission is approaching irresistibly, because launch windows are possible only in 2029 and 2034.

The orbit of Sedna (red) compared to that of Jupiter (orange), Satron (yellow), Uranus (green), Neptune (blue), and Pluto (purple). SZZZURK / KHADER / NASA

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In Zubko’s study, he modeled the different paths of the spacecraft’s journey to Sedna and determined that we would have the best chance of a launch in 2029. In this launch window, the spacecraft would head toward Venus and back to Earth, performing this maneuver up to 2 times. After that, the ship will head around Jupiter to Sedna. Experts set the flight time from 20 to 30 years. The advantage of a longer flight plan is a slower transit around Sedna, which provides more time for data collection.

For a better understanding of the challenging task we’re talking about here – in the next approach, Sedna will reach a distance of about 76 times the Earth’s distance from the Sun. Neptune is 30 of these astronomical units (AUs) and the Voyager spacecraft, which has been flying in space since 1977, is 150 and 125 astronomical units apart.

No mission to Sedna has yet been planned, but astronomers’ discussions are already well underway.