You’re not thinking nearly enough about Neptune and Uranus (Bonus: Ted Cruz tie-in!)

You’re not thinking nearly enough about Neptune and Uranus (Bonus: Ted Cruz tie-in!)

With the GOP in charge of the Senate, Ted Cruz has taken charge of the Science, Space, and Competitiveness subcommittee. Which means Ted Cruz now oversees NASA. …

Cruz is right when he calls for focus on manned space flight; a return to launching our own astronauts into space should be at the top of the agenda, and a return to Apollo-style deep-space exploration should be just below it. … I’d like to make a plea for the forgotten planets — the Ice Giants.

There are no ongoing or planned missions to Uranus or Neptune. And believe me, there should be. Earth chauvinism makes us forget, sometimes, that we aren’t the only blue planet. But out beyond Saturn are two of the most charming, gigantic, gaseous blue spheres in the solar system. …

By the way, inside the carbon-rich pressure-cooker that is Uranus — if you’re interested in this sort of thing — it rains diamonds, into oceans of liquid diamond, upon which float “diamond-bergs.” It also does that on Neptune.

Neptune — our gorgeous, cobalt blue final planet — was discovered in one of history’s most remarkable applications of mathematical analysis. After Herschel discovered Uranus, a French astronomer named Alexis Bouvard calculated the orbit it would follow. Observation proved that calculation incorrect, prompting Bouvard to speculate that there might be some even more distant planet pulling Uranus off course. Mathematician Urbain Le Verrier calculated where that planet should be; German astronomer Johann Galle looked where Le Verrier pointed, and lo and behold, there was Neptune. …

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