Researchers have discovered what they describe as a new superhighway network to travel through the solar system much faster than previously thought possible. Scientists say these routes could push comets and asteroids close to the distance between Jupiter and Neptune in less than a decade. The fast trails can also move comets and asteroids up to 100 astronomical units in less than a century.
It is possible that these superhighway networks could be used to send spacecraft to the far reaches of the planetary system relatively quickly. Now that these networks have been discovered, they can also be used to track and understand objects near Earth that could affect our planet. Researchers have observed the dynamic structures of these routes, forming a contiguous series of arcs in what is known as space manifolds that stretch from the asteroid belt to Uranus and beyond.
The celestial autobahn can operate for decades instead of hundreds of thousands or millions of years usually associated with the dynamics of the solar system. Jupiter is connected with the most striking arc structures and the strong gravitational pull it exerts. The populations of comets of the Jupiter family, which orbit 20 years, and small solar system bodies known as Centaurs are controlled by manifolds on “unprecedented timescales.”
Researchers say some of those bodies will collide with Jupiter or be thrown out of the solar system altogether. The discovery was made by collecting numerical data on millions of orbits in our solar system and calculating how the orbits go in previously known space manifolds. Researchers note that their results need to be studied further to determine how manifolds can be used by spacecraft and how the manifolds behave in Earth’s environment.
Of particular note is how the near-Earth manifolds control asteroid and meteorite encounters. Researchers also want to investigate how the manifolds affect satellites and other human-made objects in the Earth-moon system.