Friday, 14 December 2012

Future Exploration of the Outer Planets

On Friday December 14th the Royal Astronomical Society hosted a one-day discussion meeting on the future exploration of the outer solar system, organised by myself and Chris Arridge.  The details of the meeting can be found below, along with the list of speakers from the UK and overseas.  More details will appear in this blog after Christmas, and the outcome of the meeting will be described in an article for Astronomy and Geophysics in 2013. The meeting was a great success, with a broad range of topics covered and plenty of discussions over coffee about how we might push for future exploration of the outer solar system!


Exploration of the giant planets of our solar system over the past several decades has revealed four unique, complex and dynamic worlds.  They serve as natural planetary-scale laboratories for the fundamental physics and chemistry at work throughout our solar system, and can be viewed as miniature solar systems in their own right.  Our understanding of these planets remains in its infancy, but the four giants serve as templates for the interpretation of exoplanetary systems being discovered throughout our galaxy.  The purpose of this Royal Astronomical Society Specialist Discussion Meeting on December 14th 2012 is to bring together experts in giant planet systems to identify the key science questions for future exploration of the outer solar system.  The themes of this meeting include:
  1. Drivers for exploration of the Jupiter system by Juno and JUICE – open questions and the scientific potential.
  2. Orbital exploration of an Ice Giant planetary system – science questions and technological feasibility.
  3. In situ exploration of giant planet atmospheres (probes) and satellite surfaces (landers) to provide a window onto the formational history of our solar system.
  4. Future space-telescopic observations of our solar system in the post-Hubble/Spitzer/Herschel era (e.g., capabilities of JWST and the need for planetary spectroscopy).

Abstracts concerning recent research and open questions on the present state of these planets (dynamics, chemistry and vertical structure); their temporal evolution and coupling between their atmosphere, interior, magnetosphere, satellites and ring systems are also welcome.   This meeting will explore the rationale and drivers for outer solar system exploration in the coming decades, and discuss the possibilities for future telescopic and spacecraft missions.   Further information on the meeting (plus details of how to get to Burlington House) can be found at

Keynote Speakers
  1. Mark Hofstadter (JPL) - Missions to the Ice Giants
  2. Michele Dougherty (Imperial) - Exploration of the Jovian System and JUICE
  3. Olivier Mousis (Toulouse) - Formation Processes in the Outer Solar System

Programme:  Friday December 14th 2012
Keynote talks will last 30 minutes (including 5 min discussion), all other talks will last 20 minutes (including 4 min discussion).

10:00 - 10:30 Arrival and Coffee

10:30 - 13:00 Morning Session
10:30 - 10:40 Intro & Aims (10 mins) - Leigh Fletcher, Oxford
10:40 - 11:10 Prospects for a NASA-led Ice Giant Mission (Keynote) - Mark Hofstadter, NASA/JPL
11:10 - 11:30 Uranus Pathfinder - Chris Arridge, MSSL
11:30 - 11:50 Gas Giant Ionospheres and Aurora - Tom Stallard, Leicester
11:50 - 12:20 Origin of Uranus and its Satellite System (Keynote) - Olivier Mousis
12:20 - 12:40 Radioactive Power Sources and Technology Development - Richard Ambrosi, Leicester
12:40 - 13:00 Outer Solar System Technology Development - Matthew Stuttard, Astrium

13:00 - 14:00 Lunch

14:00 - 15:30 Afternoon Session
14:00 - 14:30 Exploration of the Jovian System and JUICE - Michele Dougherty, Imperial
14:30 - 14:50 Future Exploration of Titan - Mark Leese, Open University
14:50 - 15:10 Instrumentation for in-situ measurements of the gas giants and their satellites - Andrew Morse, Open University
15:10 - 15:30 Exploration of Planetary Rings - Carl Murray, QMUL

15:30 - 16:00 Tea at the Geological Society
16:00 - 18:00 RAS Monthly A&G (Ordinary) Meeting
18:00 - 19:00 Drinks Reception (in the RAS' Burlington House Apartments)

Further Details:

Recent observations of the gas and ice giants have revealed complex evolving systems, from (i) short-term variability (comet/asteroidal impacts on Jupiter, giant planetary-scale storms on Saturn, discrete features on Uranus and Neptune, dynamic moon activity at Io and Enceladus), (ii) medium-term changes (the life cycle of Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt, seasonal storms on Saturn, seasonal effects on natural satellites, seasonal changes in ring systems and their atmospheres/ionosphere) and solar cycle variability in the magnetosphere.  The seasonally-induced hemispheric asymmetries, polar vortices and equator-to-pole contrasts on Saturn, Uranus and Neptune allows us to study generalised seasonal and polar phenomena without the complicating terrestrial influence of topography.  Temporal variability within the weather layer may provide key diagnostics of processes occurring in regions inaccessible to remote sensing, within the deep troposphere and planetary interior.   The diverse satellite and ring systems host a plethora of unique environments that have yet to be fully explored, from Io’s volcanoes, the sub-surface oceans of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, the plumes of Enceladus and Triton and the thick atmosphere of Titan.  And finally, the magnetospheres of the giant planets act as giant particle accelerators (from plasma to dust), exhibit pulsar-like behaviour (Jupiter) and interact with the rest of their planetary environments in complex ways via a range of mass, energy and momentum exchange processes.  This meeting aims to capture each of these diverse planetary exploration fields to discuss the rationale for future missions to the outer solar system.

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