Research output: Contribution to journal › Journal article
|<mark>Journal publication date</mark>||1/12/2014|
|<mark>Journal</mark>||Planetary and Space Science|
|Number of pages||14|
|Early online date||6/06/14|
The planet Neptune and its largest moon Triton hold the keys to major advances across multiple fields of Solar System science. The ice giant Neptune played a unique and important role in the process of Solar System formation, has the most meteorologically active atmosphere in the Solar System (despite its great distance from the Sun), and may be the best Solar System analogue of the dominant class of exoplanets detected to date. Neptune's moon Triton is very likely a captured Kuiper Belt object, holding the answers to questions about the icy dwarf planets that formed in the outer Solar System. Triton is geologically active, has a tenuous nitrogen atmosphere, and is predicted to have a subsurface ocean. However, our exploration of the Neptune system remains limited to a single spacecraft flyby, made by Voyager 2 in 1989. Here, we present the high-level science case for further exploration of this outermost planetary system, based on a white paper submitted to the European Space Agency (ESA) for the definition of the second and third large missions in the ESA Cosmic Vision Programme 2015-2025. We discuss all the major science themes that are relevant for further spacecraft exploration of the Neptune system, and identify key scientific questions in each area. We present an overview of the results of a European-led Neptune orbiter mission analysis. Such a mission has significant scope for international collaboration, and is essential to achieve our aim of understanding how the Solar System formed, and how it works today.