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Astronomers Find Cosmic 'Superhighways'

Researchers call it a 'true celestial autobahn'
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2020 3:40 PM CST

(Newser) – Think space travel is just too slow? Well, good news: Astronomers say they've uncovered an "autobahn" of invisible interactions that moves objects along—and might just speed up space exploration, Science Alert reports. The new research hinges on "manifolds," or gravitational regions that exist between orbital bodies such as a planet and the sun. NASA already uses them to propel spacecraft, but now it seems manifolds have an "unexpected ornamental structure" that enables objects to pick up extra speed, per Phys.org. The structure apparently helps comets travel from Jupiter to Neptune in as little as a decade, much faster than the hundreds of thousands or millions of years usually found in solar-system dynamics.

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Indeed the most powerful effects are linked to Jupiter's gravitational forces—which can send objects to Uranus and Neptune in 38 or 46 years on average, according to a model used in the research. "It should come as no surprise that Jupiter can induce large-scale transport on decadal time scales, as space missions have been specifically designed for Jupiter-assisted transport, with the flybys of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 being cardinal examples," the authors say. "Yet, their widespread influence on natural celestial bodies has been largely undervalued and unexplored." They say more research could "provide deeper insight" into "transport" across the solar system. (This solstice will provide a sight not seen since the Middle Ages.)

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