since the past For decades, NASA has been investing in spacecraft to conduct close-up inspections of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. It may well be Uranus’ turn now.

On Tuesday, a team of planetary science and astrobiology researchers released a detailed new report, called the Decadal Survey, which lays out research priorities in their fields. Like the census, the decennial survey is conducted every 10 years and has important political significance. Previous assessments by planetary scientists have prioritized Mars sample return missions and exploration of Jupiter’s moon Europa — missions the federal government agreed to fund in the 2020s. This time, the researchers believe that the Uranus orbiter and probe should be considered “the highest priority new flagship mission” that could be developed and even launched within the next decade. Their second option is to search for life on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which has a subsurface ocean, a small portion of which erupts in plumes.

These new proposals could eventually become reality too. That’s because the report, organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, has received widespread support. It is respected by members of Congress, NASA and the scientific community. “For me, the Uranus Orbiter is likely to happen. This starts an interesting process of translating ideas and words into the metal and technology of the spacecraft, which will take decades,” reports the steering committee. “We Will enjoy years of Uranus jokes,” he added.

The report calls for a spacecraft to study the ice giant’s interior and atmosphere, its magnetic field, its rings and its many moons. If NASA has enough funding and support to launch within the next few years, such a probe could launch in 2032 and wiggle around Jupiter to use gravity to help boost its speed by the end of 2032, the authors wrote. reach that decade. But given that the bulk of NASA’s budget is now focused on Mars and Europa, Dreyer said that launching such a spacecraft in the late 2030s is more likely. Then the voyage itself would take the better part of a decade.

A few decades ago, Mars and Venus seemed like obvious places to look for alien life, since the surfaces of these planets may have once held the liquid water that all known life forms need. But there may also be other habitable places near us: ocean worlds, which are distant moons in our solar system with liquid lakes or oceans, some deep underground.

The new report, “Origins, Worlds, and Life,” highlights such worlds as they may host alien microbes that scientists have long sought. Known ocean worlds include the moons of Europa and Titan, Jupiter and Saturn, which are targeted by NASA’s Europa Clipper and Titan Dragonfly missions. But Titan, one of Titan’s little brothers, is an ocean world itself, and the researchers picked it as a second priority, a place to send an “orbilander,” a vehicle that could function as both an orbiter and a lander. Spacecraft. “It’s been Enceladus’ turn for so long. It’s been begging us to come,” said Nathalie Cabrol, an astrobiologist and director of the Carl Sagan Research Center at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., an organization focused on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence .