To date, planetary scientists have built spaceships and astrophysicists have built space telescopes. But the time has come to change that, say some researchers in the solar system.
Astrophysical space telescopes, especially revered Hubble Space Telescope, have been vital tools for science right here in our solar system and far beyond. But there is only so much science that you can do with a busy telescope, planetary scientists have discovered, especially one such as the sought-after Hubble.
“We really didn’t have a special space telescope of the solar system, we relied on astrophysical assets ̵
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Although such a tool would not chart a course towards a specific goal, that does not mean it could not help similar missions in the future, Hendrix said. She cites in particular Observations of the Hubble Space Telescope of what became an additional target of New Horizons, Arrokoth, which was discovered only after the launch of the spacecraft, as a precedent.
“Space telescopes have synergies with visiting missions, so they can help plan new missions, improve the scientific return of target missions with additional observations, identify targets and hazards, and expand research into variability beyond mission life,” he said. Hendrix.
Among the astronomical observatories, Hubble has a particularly important contribution to planetary science, Hendrix said, especially in the study of storms and the radiance of Jupiter, looking for feathers on his moon Europe and identifying new objects from the Kuiper belt as Arrokoth.
But Hubble won’t last forever for the next two large astrophysical space telescopes, Web and Roman telescopes will not be able to see ultraviolet light, which is especially important for planetary scientists.
And there is a bigger problem with reading astrophysical observatories, Hendrix said. Because these instruments are so sought after and their coordinators often plan to monitor time in annual cycles, it is difficult for planetary scientists to obtain the type of long-term, high-frequency observations that are particularly important for their work.
This type of observation is vital for studying rapidly changing phenomena: If you want to study plumes or volcanoes, storms or auroras, observation here or there will simply not reduce it.
Many of the pressing issues in modern planetary science require short phenomena or changes in time to be seen. Right Venus has active volcanoes? How do those on the Moon of Jupiter I work? Which ice moons launch plumes from the inner oceans into space, making them easier to study? How comets change? How do planetary rings form and persist? How does the constant flow of charged particles emanating from our sun interact with the magnetic fields of each planet?
And unlike a new mission to visit these worlds, a single space telescope could handle a buffet of these issues in a whole range of places.
“There is so much science that needs to be done, and in fact it can only be done by a facility aimed at observing targets from a distance,” Hendrix said. “There’s a lot of science that needs to be done if you don’t go to a specific destination in the solar system.”
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