A Brief View On Space Exploration-Our Solar System
The Universe is the home to many galaxies, planets, astronomical objects including comets, supernovae, black holes, exoplanets, quasars, nebulas, etc. Observing some of these celestial objects can be a wonderful sight to behold.
The best part is that the universe harbors our Solar System where we have 8 planets revolving around the Sun, the star at the center of the Solar System.
Our Solar System used to consist of 9 planets until 2006 when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) renounced Pluto’s status as a planet and declared it a “Dwarf Planet”. This is because Pluto’s is not big enough to exert its orbital dominance and clear the neighborhood surrounding its orbit. It is now one of the Dwarf Planet in the Kuiper Belt, the region beyond the orbit of Neptune.
The 8 planets in the Solar System consist of 4 terrestrial planets [Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars], 2 Gas Giants [Jupiter and Saturn] & 2 Ice Giants [Uranus and Neptune]. The terrestrial planets have a rocky and solid surface, the gas giants compose mainly of helium and hydrogen and are called “Brown Dwarfs” or “Failed Stars” due to having the basic elements of a star, but also not being large enough to activate the nuclear fusion in their cores.
The ice giants are basically gas giants, but contain more massive elements than those in gas Giants. The most abundant elements in ice giants are oxygen, sulfur, carbon, and nitrogen.
Over the years, there have been speculations about the possibility of some moons of the planets in our solar system having the necessary conditions to harbor extraterrestrial life. Although, only Earth and Mars are the only planets within the “habitable zone” of the solar system. Mars is thought to have had the necessary conditions to harbor life in the past. Finding life outside our planet is not the only reason why we explore the solar system, other reasons may include studying the geological, chemical and physical structure and components of the celestial bodies and the phenomena in our solar system. To achieve this objective, different space probes have been launched to carry out research in Space.
Notable examples of probes sent are:
NASA’s Voyager 1
NASA’s Voyager 2
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Ingenuity Copter
Parker Solar Probe
This list only consists of a few of the most popular space probes, as there are many other probes that have been launched by different astronomical organizations across various nations. The purpose and mission of the probes varies, some are sent to examine, analyze and perform scientific research on the planets and their moons, while some land on the planets for direct research. It should be noted that the Gas Giants, i.e. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune can’t be landed on because they are mainly composed of gas and therefore have no solid surface. In this case, space probes sent to inspect these gas giants perform “Flybys” in which the probes are sent close enough to planets to collate scientific data.
Intriguing interplanetary missions to look out for are the “Europa Clipper Mission” and the “Dragonfly Mission”. The Europa Clipper Mission is a planned NASA mission to send a spacecraft to Jupiter’s moon, Europa. The spacecraft will study the supposed presence of a subsurface ocean underneath the moon’s ice crust. It aims to search for the possibility of life on the icy moon. It is scheduled to launch in October 2024. The Dragonfly Mission is another planned NASA mission which aims to send a robotic rotorcraft to study the chemistry and habitability of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. It will launch in 2027.
Exploring Space allows us to find hidden mysteries of our Solar System that lie beyond our Planet. It helps us to answer some of the big questions we have in Astronomy. Think about how many astronomical objects, resources, and moons that can host extraterrestrial life we can find in our solar system. The possibilities of discovery are infinite, and we haven’t even begun to talk about exploring the planets and astronomical objects that exist in galaxies far beyond our Milky Way Galaxy. There is a chance we can only be limited to exploring our Solar System, but maybe…just maybe there is a chance we can visit other Solar Systems. As exciting as that sounds, there is a great chance we will never be able to explore the entire Galaxy. Perhaps, there is a limit to how far we can see or go.