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article imageEssential Science: Solar System’s first superhighway mapped out

By Tim Sandle     Dec 14, 2020 in Science
One day we’ll be able to traverse the solar system in spacecraft, and there is till plenty to explore with probes. To optimize the journey time through the Solar System, scientists have proposed a ‘superhighway’.
The proposed superhighway provides a route by which spacecraft can be sent into the far reaches of the Sun’s planetary system in the fastest way possible. The data gathered to establish the route also provides a means to monitor and to better understand near-Earth objects. This is important for helping to address the risk where one of these objects could collide with Earth.
This artist s conception shows a newly formed star surrounded by a swirling protoplanetary disk of d...
This artist's conception shows a newly formed star surrounded by a swirling protoplanetary disk of dust and gas. Debris coalesces to create rocky 'planetesimals' that collide and grow to eventually form planets.
NASA/University of Copenhagen/Lars Buchhave
The following video outlines how the researchers calculated the superhighway’s coordinates:
As the video indicates, the scientists from University of California - San Diego calculated the dynamical structure of different celestial routes. These took the unusual form of a series of connected arches inside what has been termed space manifolds.
Spacecraft that are on trajectories to leave the Solar System. (Note: Voyager 1 left the solar syste...
Spacecraft that are on trajectories to leave the Solar System. (Note: Voyager 1 left the solar system in 2012).
NASA/ Photo ID: ACD97-0036-1.
This adds to a developing body of research based on dynamical systems methods which help to design of optimal station-keeping and eclipse avoidance manoeuvres for spacecraft. Longer-term, this type of research will be able to answer questions relating to interplanetary transfers.
Guiding arches
The arches extend from the asteroid belt to the planet Uranus and beyond. This celestial highway acts over several decades, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands or millions of years that usually characterize Solar System dynamics.
The primary arch structures are connected to Jupiter as a result of the strong gravitational forces the super-planet exerts. Such are the gravitational forces at play, the population of Jupiter-family comets plus small-size solar system bodies (Centaurs), are controlled by these manifolds. One day, the model predicts, many of these bodies will collide with Jupiter or face being ejected from the Solar System.
The highway and the forces affecting the various bodies was assessed through compiling numerical data relating to millions of orbits within the Solar System. Advanced software was then used to compute precisely how these orbits fit within established space manifolds.
This global view of Jupiter s moon  Io  was obtained during the tenth orbit of Jupiter by NASA s Gal...
This global view of Jupiter's moon, Io, was obtained during the tenth orbit of Jupiter by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Io, which is slightly larger than Earth's Moon, is the most volcanically active body in the solar system.
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
The outcome provides a map that spacecraft can used to traverse the Solar System in the most time efficient manner. The data will also enable scientists to understand the different ways by which manifolds are likely to behave in the vicinity of the Earth. This will be of great importance for assessing future asteroid and meteorite encounters.
Research paper
The outlining of the superhighway has been published in the journal Science Advances. The research is titled “The arches of chaos in the Solar System.”
Exoplanet theory
In related astronomy news (especially to planets being pushed away), scientists have established that planets can exist in orbits far from their star. This happens, a new theory runs, when interactions with the star or inner planets pushes a planet out of the inner system. Then another star stabilizes the orbit of the expelled planet and it becomes bound. To support this, astrophysicists have identified a binary star system, HD 106906, which has a planet in a bound, highly eccentric orbit.
It is hoped this theory might spread some light on the hypothesized 'Planet Nine', which is thought to exist within our own Solar System.
Artist s image of the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun
Artist's image of the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun
Caltech/R Hurt (IPAC)
This research is published in The Astronomical Journal, where the paper is titled “First Detection of Orbital Motion for HD 106906 b: A Wide-separation Exoplanet on a Planet Nine–like Orbit.”
Essential Science
This article forms part of Digital Journal’s long-running Essential Science series, where new research relating to wider science stories of interest are presented on a weekly basis.
Human eye  close up
Human eye, close up
Che (CC BY-SA 2.5)
Last week we looked at technological solutions for those with impaired vision. We learned that by using a brain implant, researchers have restored a rudimentary form of vision in the blind.
The week before we looked at a new study into coronavirus transmission. The research weighed up the relative merits of the recommended approaches is the most effective at reducing SARS-CoV-2 infection.
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