Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Comets, Space Exploration
Invisible structures generated by gravitational interactions in the Solar System have created a "space superhighway" network, astronomers have discovered.
These channels enable the fast travel of objects through space and could be harnessed for our own space exploration purposes, as well as the study of comets and asteroids.
By applying analyses to both observational and simulation data, a team of researchers led by Nataša Todorović of Belgrade Astronomical Observatory in Serbia observed that these superhighways consist of a series of connected arches inside these invisible structures, called space manifolds - and each planet generates its own manifolds, together creating what the researchers have called "a true celestial autobahn."
This network can transport objects from Jupiter to Neptune in a matter of decades, rather than the much longer timescales, on the order of hundreds of thousands to millions of years, normally found in the Solar System.
Finding hidden structures in space isn't always easy, but looking at the way things move around can provide helpful clues. In particular, comets and asteroids.
There are several groups of rocky bodies at different distances from the Sun. There's the Jupiter-family comets (JFCs), those with orbits of less than 20 years, that don't go farther than Jupiter's orbital paths.
Centaurs are icy chunks of rocks that hang out between Jupiter and Neptune. And the trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) are those in the far reaches of the Solar System, with orbits larger than that of Neptune.
Astronomers Just Found Cosmic 'Superhighways' For Fast Travel Through The Solar System, Michelle Starr (no kidding), Science Alert