NASA Is Asking The Public For Help To Peep Uranus

hero new horizons space craft
NASA is seeking out the help of the public to keep an eye on the ice giants Uranus and Neptune as its New Horizons spacecraft observes the duo from deep space. The mission team is inviting all amateur astronomers to help make "a real contribution to space science."

New Horizons was launched on January 19, 2006, and has since passed Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies. It also conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby of Pluto and its moons. Now, the spacecraft is turning its attention to Uranus and Neptune from its position in the Kuiper Belt, more than 5 billion miles from Earth, and NASA wants the public's help gaining new insights into the atmospheres above and the energy balance with both planets.

pluto new horizons image
High-resolution mage of Pluto captured by New Horizons on July 14, 2015.

"By combining the information New Horizons collects in space with data from telescopes on Earth, we can supplement and even strengthen our models to uncover the mysteries swirling around in the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune," remarked Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Stern added, "Even from amateur astronomer telescopes as small as 16 inches, these complementary observations can be extremely important."

The plan is for New Horizons to work in tandem with the Hubble Space Telescope, in order to focus on the finer details of the planets' atmospheres and transfer of heat from their cores through their gaseous exteriors, according to a NASA blog post. Amateur astronomers can help measure the distribution of bright features on Uranus, or even help characterize any unusually bright features on Neptune. The thought behind asking for the help of the general public is that they can track features for a much longer time period than either spacecraft.

image of neptune taken by amateur astronomer
Images of Uranus taken by Anthony Wesley of Murrumbateman, Australia with a 16″ Newtonian telescope.

Those who choose to take part in this opportunity are being asked to post any images they have acquired on X (formerly Twitter) or Facebook using the hashtag #NHiceGiants. Shared images should also include the details of when they were made and in what filter passbands. Once posted and tagged, the New Horizons team will collect the images and any supporting information.

Images taken by Hubble of the two ice giants will be made available to the public in late September of this year at the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST), at archive Images taken by New Horizons are expected to take a little longer and will be made available toward the end of 2023.