Do names determine our destiny? Certainly, Uranus (properly pronounced, yur-an-us) makes a strong case for that theory. The planet has been repeatedly ignored by space missions, aside from a Voyager 2 flyby in 1986. But, a group of planetary scientists say Uranus has fascinating traits that merit investigation.
"Uranus really stands out," University of Oxford planetary scientist Leigh Fletcher tells BBC Future. "It's the oddball amongst the collection of planetary types we have."
As BBC Future reports:
Circled by 26 small moons, a few faint rings and a weak magnetic field Uranus appears to be tipped over on its side. Every planet has a slight tilt when it spins – it gives us our seasons – but unlike every other planet in the solar system, Uranus rotates on an axis pointing almost directly at the Sun. Something that Fletcher describes as "really weird".
"Imagine a world where winter lasts 42 Earth years and you don't see the Sun once during that time," he says. "You have this situation where the atmosphere isn't heated for decades and that can lead to some really interesting atmospheric properties."
Fletcher is part of an international team that believes Uranus has been neglected for too long. This group of space scientists and engineers from Europe, the United States and several other nations, including Japan, is working on a $600m mission proposal for the European Space Agency (ESA) with the aim of sending out a space probe, within the next 10 years, to discover why Uranus is so odd. The mission will investigate the atmosphere, magnetic field and capture detailed images of this strange world.
By comparing the ancient soup of preserved gases in Uranus' atmosphere with Earth or Jupiter, they also hope to get a better understanding of what conditions were like when the Solar System was being formed.
The scientists have until January 2015 to submit their mission proposal to ESA. If accepted, a spacecraft could reach the planet by the mid-2030's—and Uranus might finally get a little respect.