The extraordinary superhighway network was discovered by an international team of researchers from Serbia and the United States. The routes can transport comets and asteroids nearly the distance from Jupiter to Neptune in under a decade and a staggering 100 astronomical units in less than a century.
To break that down, one single astronomical unit is roughly the distance from Earth to the Sun and is equal to about 150 million kilometers. The distance between Jupiter and Neptune is nearly 25 astronomical units.
The scientists say the network could be used to send spacecraft to the far reaches of our planetary system relatively fast, and to monitor and understand near-Earth objects that might collide with our planet.
The team observed the dynamical structure of the routes, which form a connected series of arches inside what’s known as space manifolds that extend from the asteroid belt to Uranus and beyond.
This newly discovered phenomenon acts over several decades, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands or millions of years that are typical of Solar System dynamics.
The experts say that the most conspicuous arch structures are linked to Jupiter and the strong gravitational forces it exerts.
“It should come at 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 astronomers write in their paper.