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Space experts even go so far as to claim these cosmic channels could be harnessed to speed through space. Dr Natasa Todorovic of Belgrade Astronomical Observator believes such cosmic motorways consist of a series of connected arches inside these invisible structures, known as space “manifolds”. These space scientists suggest each planet generates its own manifolds.
When combined, these create what are called “a true celestial autobahn”.
This network may be able to transport objects between planets in a matter of decades instead of centuries.
There are several groups of rocky bodies at different distances from the Sun, such as the Jupiter-family comets.
These exhibit orbits of fewer than 20 years and do not venture farther than Jupiter’s orbital paths.
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Centaurs are icy chunks of rocks that orbit usually between Jupiter and Neptune.
And the trans-Neptunian objects are bodies in the far reaches of the Solar System, with orbits larger than that of Neptune.
To model the pathways connecting these zones, timescales can consequently stretch to a billion year-timescale.
However, scientists have now identified an orbital gateway connected to gas giant Jupiter seemingly far quicker.
Although this research does not mention Lagrange points (orbital points near two large co-orbiting bodies), it is known such regions of relative gravitational stability, created by the interaction between two orbiting bodies can generate manifolds.
Astronomers used Fast Lyapunov indicator (FLI) instruments normally used to detect chaos.
Since chaos in the Solar System is connected to the existence of stable and unstable manifolds, FLI can capture traces of manifolds of the dynamical model they are applied to.
The researchers wrote: “Here we use the FLI to detect the presence and global structure of space manifolds, and capture instabilities that act on orbital time scales; that is, we use this sensitive and well-established numerical tool to more generally define regions of fast transport within the Solar System.”
They collected data via millions of orbits in the Solar System and then computed how these orbits fit with known manifolds.
These used models the disorders created by seven major planets, from Venus to Neptune.
The astronomers discovered the most prominent arches, at increasing heliocentric distances, were linked with gas giant Jupiter.
All Jovian close encounters, modelled using test particles, visited the vicinity of Jupiter’s first and second Lagrange points.
Numerous particles were then pushed into the planet on a collision course, but a vast number became uncoupled from their orbits around the Sun to enter hyperbolic escape orbits.
These particles usually reached Uranus and Neptune 31 or 40 years late with the fastest reaching Neptune in under a decade.
Roughly 70 percent reached a distance of 100 Astronomical Units (AU) – the average distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Jupiter’s huge influence is not a huge surprise, but its enormous structure would be sill generate similar timescales with orbital periods.
This new understanding could help astronomers better understand how comets and asteroids move around the inner Solar System, and their potential threat to Earth.
However, they need to get a better idea how these gateways work, to avoid those collision courses;
The researchers wrote: ”More detailed quantitative studies of the discovered phase-space structures … could provide deeper insight into the terrestrial planet region.
“Combining observations, theory, and simulation will improve our current understanding of this short-term mechanism acting on the TNO, Centaur, comet, and asteroid populations and merge this knowledge with the traditional picture of the long-term chaotic diffusion through orbital resonances; a formidable task for the large range of energies considered.”
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