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.
They collected numerical data on millions of orbits in the Solar System, and computed how these orbits fit with known manifolds, modelling the perturbations generated by seven major planets, from Venus to Neptune.
And they found that the most prominent arches, at increasing heliocentric distances, were linked with Jupiter; and most strongly with its Lagrange point manifolds. All Jovian close encounters, modelled using test particles, visited the vicinity of Jupiter’s first and second Lagrange points.
A few dozen or so particles were then flung into the planet on a collision course; but a vast number more, around 2,000, became uncoupled from their orbits around the Sun to enter hyperbolic escape orbits. On average, these particles reached Uranus and Neptune 38 and 46 years later, respectively, with the fastest reaching Neptune in under a decade.[…]
Space manifolds act as the boundaries of dynamical channels enabling fast transportation into the inner- and outermost reaches of the Solar System. Besides being an important element in spacecraft navigation and mission design, these manifolds can also explain the apparent erratic nature of comets and their eventual demise. Here, we reveal a notable and hitherto undetected ornamental structure of manifolds, connected in a series of arches that spread from the asteroid belt to Uranus and beyond. The strongest manifolds are found to be linked to Jupiter and have a profound control on small bodies over a wide and previously unconsidered range of three-body energies. Orbits on these manifolds encounter Jupiter on rapid time scales, where they can be transformed into collisional or escaping trajectories, reaching Neptune’s distance in a mere decade. All planets generate similar manifolds that permeate the Solar System, allowing fast transport throughout, a true celestial autobahn.
igure 1 shows short-term FLI maps of the outer edge of the asteroid belt (∼3 AU) up to near the semimajor axis of Uranus (∼20 AU), for all elliptic eccentricities, and considering the seven-planet dynamical model (top) and the Sun-Jupiter-TP–restricted problem (bottom) in ORBIT9. The large stable island at 5.2 AU, nesting the Greeks, is clearly visible in both panels of Fig. 1, as is the niche for the Hildas at 3.97 AU. A shadow of the chaotic borders of the strongest resonance in the outer belt, the 2:1 mean-motion resonance (MMR) with Jupiter at 3.3 AU, begins to appear, indicating the relative weakness of such orbital resonances compared to the manifolds uncovered herein. The notable feature of Fig. 1, however, is the large “V-shaped” chaotic structure that emerges outside of roughly 5.6 AU, which is connected to a series of arches at increasing heliocentric distances that nearly follows the perihelion line (qj) of Jupiter. Chaos also emanates along the Jovian aphelion line (Qj) in elongated concentric curves, initiating near 4.8 AU.