(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have discovered real highways in space. Through them, the spacecraft can quickly reach the outskirts of the solar system.
The achievement is described in a scientific article published in the journal Science Advances.
Imagine a car that travels thousands of kilometers and only occasionally turns on the engine. Fiction? Nevertheless, space probes cover distances in this way.
Even the moon cannot be reached with the engine running all the time: there is not enough fuel. And so about how to fly in this way to distant planets, there can be no question. Therefore, specialists are forced to calculate flights so that the apparatus moves almost all the time by inertia (more precisely, under the influence of the sun’s gravity).
To alter the probe’s trajectory and give it additional acceleration, space engineers use planetary encounters. The planet’s gravity acts as a kind of kick, sending the apparatus along the desired route at the required speed.
The calculation of such flights is a whole art. And often astronomers have to wait for years for the planets to line up in the right way and it will be possible to launch the apparatus.
The authors of the new study have discovered a whole class of new trajectories along which the probe can quickly fly to the outskirts of the solar system. Such a flight will not be inferior in speed to the movement of the Voyagers, which left the heliosphere in 40 years. In addition, the study shows how a small object like a comet or an asteroid can travel from Jupiter to Neptune in a matter of decades.
Scientists from Serbia and the United States have carried out computer simulations that take into account the gravity of seven planets in the solar system (from Venus to Neptune). They launched millions of test bodies into virtual flight along various trajectories lying between the main asteroid belt and Uranus. Astronomers have been tracking the movement of their “test subjects” for a hundred years.
Most of the orbits, as expected, turned out to be fairly stable. But a class of trajectories was also discovered on which the gravity of Jupiter (recall that this is the largest planet in the solar system) does not allow the object to quietly revolve around our star. It either launches the body to the outskirts of the Sun’s domain, or forces it to fall on a giant planet.
Of the millions of virtual objects, only a few dozen fell on Jupiter. But about two thousand went on a long journey. They reached the orbit of Uranus in 38 years on average, and Neptune in 46 years. 70% of bodies that received a gravitational kick from Jupiter left the solar system in less than a century. And the fastest “messengers” coped with the flight to Neptune in just a decade.
For comparison, Voyager 2 also flew from Jupiter to Neptune for ten years. But it was a specially calculated trajectory, which, moreover, was corrected from time to time with the help of engines.
Meanwhile, for asteroids and comets that cannot correct their trajectory in time, the typical time for such a migration is from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of years. However, if such a body accidentally falls on the “highway” discovered by the authors, it can do the same way in a decade.
In the future, scientists will be able to take into account new possibilities when planning space missions and tracking the movement of asteroids and comets.
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