Irregular moon

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Irregular satellites of Jupiter (red), Saturn (yellow), Uranus (green) and Neptune (blue) (excluding Triton). The horizontal axis shows their distance from the planet (semi-major axis) expressed as a fraction of the planet's Hill sphere's radius. The vertical axis shows their orbital inclination. Points or circles represent their relative sizes. TheIrregulars.svg
Irregular satellites of Jupiter (red), Saturn (yellow), Uranus (green) and Neptune (blue) (excluding Triton). The horizontal axis shows their distance from the planet (semi-major axis) expressed as a fraction of the planet's Hill sphere's radius. The vertical axis shows their orbital inclination. Points or circles represent their relative sizes.

In astronomy, an irregular moon, irregular satellite or irregular natural satellite is a natural satellite following a distant, inclined, and often eccentric and retrograde orbit. They have been captured by their parent planet, unlike regular satellites, which formed in orbit around them.

Astronomy Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets. Relevant phenomena include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, astronomy studies everything that originates outside Earth's atmosphere. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy. It studies the Universe as a whole.

Natural satellite astronomical body that orbits a planet

A natural satellite, or moon, is, in the most common usage, an astronomical body that orbits a planet or minor planet.

Orbital inclination Angle between a reference plane and the plane of an orbit

Orbital inclination measures the tilt of an object's orbit around a celestial body. It is expressed as the angle between a reference plane and the orbital plane or axis of direction of the orbiting object.

Contents

As of July 2018, 125 irregular moons are known, orbiting all four of the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune). The largest of each planet are Himalia of Jupiter, Phoebe of Saturn, Sycorax of Uranus, and Triton of Neptune. It is currently thought that the irregular satellites were captured from heliocentric orbits near their current locations, shortly after the formation of their parent planet. An alternative theory, that they originated further out in the Kuiper belt, is not supported by current observations.

Jupiter Fifth planet from the Sun in the Solar System

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in the Solar System. It is a gas giant with a mass one-thousandth that of the Sun, but two-and-a-half times that of all the other planets in the Solar System combined. Jupiter has been known to astronomers since antiquity. It is named after the Roman god Jupiter. When viewed from Earth, Jupiter can be bright enough for its reflected light to cast shadows, and is on average the third-brightest natural object in the night sky after the Moon and Venus.

Saturn Sixth planet from the Sun in the Solar System

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest in the Solar System, after Jupiter. It is a gas giant with an average radius about nine times that of Earth. It has only one-eighth the average density of Earth; however, with its larger volume, Saturn is over 95 times more massive. Saturn is named after the Roman god of wealth and agriculture; its astronomical symbol (♄) represents the god's sickle.

Uranus Seventh planet from the Sun in the Solar System

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. Uranus is similar in composition to Neptune, and both have bulk chemical compositions which differ from that of the larger gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. For this reason, scientists often classify Uranus and Neptune as "ice giants" to distinguish them from the gas giants. Uranus' atmosphere is similar to Jupiter's and Saturn's in its primary composition of hydrogen and helium, but it contains more "ices" such as water, ammonia, and methane, along with traces of other hydrocarbons. It has the coldest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System, with a minimum temperature of 49 K, and has a complex, layered cloud structure with water thought to make up the lowest clouds and methane the uppermost layer of clouds. The interior of Uranus is mainly composed of ices and rock.

Definition

PlanetrH, 106 km [1] rmin, km [1] Number known
Jupiter551.571
Saturn69358
Uranus7379
Neptune116167 (including Triton)

There is no widely accepted precise definition of an irregular satellite. Informally, satellites are considered irregular if they are far enough from the planet that the precession of their orbital plane is primarily controlled by the Sun.

Orbital plane (astronomy) geometrical plane in which an orbit lies

The orbital plane of a revolving body is the geometric plane in which its orbit lies. Three non-collinear points in space suffice to determine an orbital plane. A common example would be the positions of the centers of a massive body (host) and of an orbiting celestial body at two different times/points of its orbit.

In practice, the satellite's semi-major axis is compared with the radius of the planet's Hill sphere (that is, the sphere of its gravitational influence), . Irregular satellites have semi-major axes greater than 0.05 with apoapses extending as far as to 0.65 . [1] The radius of the Hill sphere is given in the adjacent table.

Hill sphere The region in which an astronomical body dominates the attraction of satellites

The Hill sphere or Roche sphere of an astronomical body is the region in which it dominates the attraction of satellites. The outer shell of that region constitutes a zero-velocity surface. To be retained by a planet, a moon must have an orbit that lies within the planet's Hill sphere. That moon would, in turn, have a Hill sphere of its own. Any object within that distance would tend to become a satellite of the moon, rather than of the planet itself. One simple view of the extent of the Solar System is the Hill sphere of the Sun with respect to local stars and the galactic nucleus.

Earth's Moon seems to be an exception: it is not usually listed as an irregular satellite even though its precession is primarily controlled by the Sun [2] and its semi-major axis is greater than 0.05 of the radius of Earth's Hill Sphere.

Orbits

Current distribution

The orbits of the known irregular satellites are extremely diverse, but there are certain patterns. Retrograde orbits are far more common (83%) than prograde orbits. No satellites are known with orbital inclinations higher than 55° (or smaller than 130° for retrograde satellites). In addition, some groupings can be identified, in which one large satellite shares a similar orbit with a few smaller ones.

Given their distance from the planet, the orbits of the outer satellites are highly perturbed by the Sun and their orbital elements change widely over short intervals. The semi-major axis of Pasiphae, for example, changes as much as 1.5 Gm in two years (single orbit), the inclination around 10°, and the eccentricity as much as 0.4 in 24 years (twice Jupiter's orbit period). [3] Consequently, mean orbital elements (averaged over time) are used to identify the groupings rather than osculating elements at the given date. (Similarly, the proper orbital elements are used to determine the families of asteroids.)

Origin

Irregular satellites have been captured from heliocentric orbits. (Indeed, it appears that the irregular moons of the giant planets, the Jovian and Neptunian trojans, and grey Kuiper belt objects have a similar origin. [4] ) For this to occur, at least one of three things needs to have happened:

After the capture, some of the satellites could break up leading to groupings of smaller moons following similar orbits. Resonances could further modify the orbits making these groupings less recognizable.

Long-term stability

Phoebe, Saturn's largest irregular satellite Phoebe cassini.jpg
Phoebe, Saturn's largest irregular satellite

The current orbits of the irregular moons are stable, in spite of substantial perturbations near the apocenter. [6] The cause of this stability in a number of irregulars is the fact that they orbit with a secular or Kozai resonance. [7]

In addition, simulations indicate the following conclusions:

Increasing eccentricity results in smaller pericenters and large apocenters. The satellites enter the zone of the regular (larger) moons and are lost or ejected via collision and close encounters. Alternatively, the increasing perturbations by the Sun at the growing apocenters push them beyond the Hill sphere.

Retrograde satellites can be found further from the planet than prograde ones. Detailed numerical integrations have shown this asymmetry. The limits are a complicated function of the inclination and eccentricity, but in general, prograde orbits with semi-major axes up to 0.47 rH (Hill sphere radius) can be stable, whereas for retrograde orbits stability can extend out to 0.67 rH.

The boundary for the semimajor axis is surprisingly sharp for the prograde satellites. A satellite on a prograde, circular orbit (inclination=0°) placed at 0.5 rH would leave Jupiter in as little as forty years. The effect can be explained by so-called evection resonance. The apocenter of the satellite, where the planet's grip on the moon is at its weakest, gets locked in resonance with the position of the Sun. The effects of the perturbation accumulate at each passage pushing the satellite even further outwards. [6]

The asymmetry between the prograde and retrograde satellites can be explained very intuitively by the Coriolis acceleration in the frame rotating with the planet. For the prograde satellites the acceleration points outward and for the retrograde it points inward, stabilising the satellite. [8]

Temporary captures

The capture of an asteroid from a heliocentric orbit isn't always permanent. According to simulations, temporary satellites should be a common phenomenon. [9] [10] The only observed example is 2006 RH120 , which was a temporary satellite of Earth for nine months in 2006 and 2007. [11] [12]

Physical characteristics

Size

Illustration of the power law. The number of objects depends on their size. TheKuiperBelt PowerLaw2.svg
Illustration of the power law. The number of objects depends on their size.

Given their greater distance from Earth, the known irregular satellites of Uranus and Neptune are larger than those of Jupiter and Saturn; smaller ones probably exist but have not yet been observed. However, with this observational bias in mind, the size distribution is similar for all four giant planets.

Typically, the relation expressing the number of objects of the diameter smaller or equal to is approximated by a power law:

with q defining the slope.

A shallow power law (q~2) is observed for sizes 10 to 100 km but steeper (q~3.5) for objects smaller than 10 km .

For comparison, the distribution of Kuiper belt objects is much steeper (q~4), i.e. for one object of 1000 km there are a thousand objects with a diameter of 100 km. The size distribution provides insights into the possible origin (capture, collision/break-up or accretion).

For every object of 100 km, ten objects of 10 km can be found.
For one object of 10 km, some 140 objects of 1 km can be found.

Colours

This diagram illustrates the differences of colour in the irregular satellites of Jupiter (red labels), Saturn (yellow) and Uranus (green). Only irregulars with known colour indices are shown. For reference, the centaur Pholus and three classical Kuiper belt objects are also plotted (grey labels, size not to scale). For comparison, see also colours of centaurs and KBOs. TheIrregulars Colours.svg
This diagram illustrates the differences of colour in the irregular satellites of Jupiter (red labels), Saturn (yellow) and Uranus (green). Only irregulars with known colour indices are shown. For reference, the centaur Pholus and three classical Kuiper belt objects are also plotted (grey labels, size not to scale). For comparison, see also colours of centaurs and KBOs.

The colours of irregular satellites can be studied via colour indices: simple measures of differences of the apparent magnitude of an object through blue (B), visible i.e. green-yellow (V), and red (R) filters. The observed colours of the irregular satellites vary from neutral (greyish) to reddish (but not as red as the colours of some Kuiper belt objects).

albedo [13] neutralreddishred
low C 3–8% P 2–6% D 2–5%
medium M 10–18% A 13–35%
high E 25–60%

Each planet's system displays slightly different characteristics. Jupiter's irregulars are grey to slightly red, consistent with C, P and D-type asteroids. [14] Some groups of satellites are observed to display similar colours (see later sections). Saturn's irregulars are slightly redder than those of Jupiter.

The large Uranian irregular satellites (Sycorax and Caliban) are light red, whereas the smaller Prospero and Setebos are grey, as are the Neptunian satellites Nereid and Halimede. [15]

Spectra

With the current resolution, the visible and near-infrared spectra of most satellites appear featureless. So far, water ice has been inferred on Phoebe and Nereid and features attributed to aqueous alteration were found on Himalia.

Rotation

Regular satellites are usually tidally locked (that is, their orbit is synchronous with their rotation so that they only show one face toward their parent planet). In contrast, tidal forces on the irregular satellites are negligible given their distance from the planet, and rotation periods in the range of only ten hours have been measured for the biggest moons Himalia, Phoebe, Sycorax, and Nereid (to compare with their orbital periods of hundreds of days). Such rotation rates are in the same range that is typical for asteroids.

Families with a common origin

Some irregular satellites appear to orbit in 'groups', in which several satellites share similar orbits. The leading theory is that these objects constitute collisional families, parts of a larger body that broke up.

Dynamic groupings

Simple collision models can be used to estimate the possible dispersion of the orbital parameters given a velocity impulse Δv. Applying these models to the known orbital parameters makes it possible to estimate the Δv necessary to create the observed dispersion. A Δv of tens of meters per seconds (5–50 m/s) could result from a break-up. Dynamical groupings of irregular satellites can be identified using these criteria and the likelihood of the common origin from a break-up evaluated. [16]

When the dispersion of the orbits is too wide (i.e. it would require Δv in the order of hundreds of m/s)

Colour groupings

When the colours and spectra of the satellites are known, the homogeneity of these data for all the members of a given grouping is a substantial argument for a common origin. However, lack of precision in the available data often makes it difficult to draw statistically significant conclusions. In addition, the observed colours are not necessarily representative of the bulk composition of the satellite.

Observed groupings

Irregular satellites of Jupiter

The orbits of Jupiter's irregular satellites, showing how they cluster into groups. Satellites are represented by circles that indicate their relative sizes. An object's position on the horizontal axis shows its distance from Jupiter. Its position on the vertical axis indicates its orbital inclination. The yellow lines indicate its orbital eccentricity (i.e. the extent to which its distance from Jupiter varies during its orbit). TheIrregulars JUPITER.svg
The orbits of Jupiter's irregular satellites, showing how they cluster into groups. Satellites are represented by circles that indicate their relative sizes. An object's position on the horizontal axis shows its distance from Jupiter. Its position on the vertical axis indicates its orbital inclination. The yellow lines indicate its orbital eccentricity (i.e. the extent to which its distance from Jupiter varies during its orbit).

Typically, the following groupings are listed (dynamically tight groups displaying homogenous colours are listed in bold)

Animation of Himalia's orbit.
Jupiter *    Himalia *   Callisto Animation of Himalia orbit around Jupiter.gif
Animation of Himalia's orbit.
   Jupiter ·   Himalia ·  Callisto

Sinope, sometimes included into the Pasiphae group, is red and given the difference in inclination, it could be captured independently. [14] [18] Pasiphae and Sinope are also trapped in secular resonances with Jupiter. [6] [16]

Irregular satellites of Saturn

Irregular satellites of Saturn, showing how they cluster into groups. For explanation, see Jupiter diagram TheIrregulars SATURN.svg
Irregular satellites of Saturn, showing how they cluster into groups. For explanation, see Jupiter diagram

The following groupings are commonly listed for Saturn's satellites:

Irregular satellites of Uranus and Neptune

Irregular satellites of Uranus (green) and Neptune (blue) (excluding Triton). For explanation, see Jupiter diagram TheIrregulars NEPTUNE URANUS.svg
Irregular satellites of Uranus (green) and Neptune (blue) (excluding Triton). For explanation, see Jupiter diagram
Planetrmin [1]
Jupiter1.5 km
Saturn3 km
Uranus7 km
Neptune16 km

According to current knowledge, the number of irregular satellites orbiting Uranus and Neptune is smaller than that of Jupiter and Saturn. However, it is thought that this is simply a result of observational difficulties due to the greater distance of Uranus and Neptune. The table at right shows the minimum radius (rmin) of satellites that can be detected with current technology, assuming an albedo of 0.04; thus, there are almost certainly small Uranian and Neptunian moons that cannot yet be seen.

Due to the smaller numbers, statistically significant conclusions about the groupings are difficult. A single origin for the retrograde irregulars of Uranus seems unlikely given a dispersion of the orbital parameters that would require high impulse (Δv ≈ 300 km), implying a large diameter of the impactor (395 km), which is incompatible in turn with the size distribution of the fragments. Instead, the existence of two groupings has been speculated: [14]

These two groups are distinct (with 3σ confidence) in their distance from Uranus and in their eccentricity. [19] However, these groupings are not directly supported by the observed colours: Caliban and Sycorax appear light red, whereas the smaller moons are grey. [15]

For Neptune, a possible common origin of Psamathe and Neso has been noted. [20] Given the similar (grey) colours, it was also suggested that Halimede could be a fragment of Nereid. [15] The two satellites have had a very high probability (41%) of collision over the age of the solar system. [21]

Exploration

Distant Cassini image of Himalia Himalia.png
Distant Cassini image of Himalia

To date, the only irregular satellites to have been visited by a spacecraft are Triton and Phoebe, the largest of Neptune's and Saturn's irregulars respectively. Triton was imaged by Voyager 2 in 1989 and Phoebe by the Cassini probe in 2004. Cassini also captured a distant, low-resolution image of Jupiter's Himalia in 2000. There are no spacecraft planned to visit any irregular satellites in the future.

Related Research Articles

Caliban (moon) moon of Uranus

Caliban is the second-largest retrograde irregular satellite of Uranus. It was discovered on 6 September 1997 by Brett J. Gladman, Philip D. Nicholson, Joseph A. Burns, and John J. Kavelaars using the 200-inch Hale telescope together with Sycorax and given the temporary designation S/1997 U 1.

Pasiphae (moon) moon of Jupiter

Pasiphae is a retrograde irregular satellite of Jupiter. It was discovered in 1908 by Philibert Jacques Melotte and later named after the mythological Pasiphaë, wife of Minos and mother of the Minotaur from Greek legend.

Sinope (moon) moon of Jupiter

Sinope is a retrograde irregular satellite of Jupiter discovered by Seth Barnes Nicholson at Lick Observatory in 1914, and is named after Sinope of Greek mythology.

Sycorax (moon) moon of Uranus

Sycorax is the largest retrograde irregular satellite of Uranus. Sycorax was discovered on 6 September 1997 by Brett J. Gladman, Philip D. Nicholson, Joseph A. Burns, and John J. Kavelaars using the 200-inch Hale telescope, together with Caliban, and given the temporary designation S/1997 U 2.

Moons of Jupiter The natural satellites of the planet Jupiter

There are 79 known moons of Jupiter. The most massive of the moons are the four Galilean moons, which were independently discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei and Simon Marius and were the first objects found to orbit a body that was neither Earth nor the Sun. From the end of the 19th century, dozens of much smaller Jovian moons have been discovered and have received the names of lovers or daughters of the Roman god Jupiter or his Greek equivalent Zeus. The Galilean moons are by far the largest and most massive objects to orbit Jupiter, with the remaining 75 known moons and the rings together comprising just 0.003% of the total orbiting mass.

Eurydome, also known as Jupiter XXXII, is a natural satellite of Jupiter. It was discovered by a team of astronomers from the University of Hawaii led by Scott S. Sheppard in 2001, and given the temporary designation S/2001 J 4.

Sponde, also known as Jupiter XXXVI, is a natural satellite of Jupiter. It was discovered by a team of astronomers from the University of Hawaii led by Scott S. Sheppard in 2001, and given the temporary designation S/2001 J 5.

Moons of Neptune The natural satellites of the planet Neptune

Neptune has 14 known moons, which are named for minor water deities in Greek mythology. By far the largest of them is Triton, discovered by William Lassell on October 10, 1846, 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself; over a century passed before the discovery of the second natural satellite, Nereid. Neptune's outermost moon Neso, which has an orbital period of about 26 Julian years, orbits further from its planet than any other moon in the Solar System.

The naming of moons has been the responsibility of the International Astronomical Union's committee for Planetary System Nomenclature since 1973. That committee is known today as the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN).

Himalia group

The Himalia group is a group of prograde irregular satellites of Jupiter that follow similar orbits to Himalia and are thought to have a common origin.

Pasiphae group group of retrograde irregular satellites of Jupiter that follow similar orbits to Pasiphae and are thought to have a common origin

The Pasiphae group is a group of retrograde irregular satellites of Jupiter that follow similar orbits to Pasiphae and are thought to have a common origin.

In astronomy, an inner moon or inner natural satellite is a natural satellite following a prograde, low-inclination orbit inwards of the large satellites of the parent planet. They are generally thought to have been formed in situ at the same time as the coalescence of the original planet. Neptune's moons are an exception, as they are likely reaggregates of the pieces of the original bodies, which were disrupted after the capture of the large moon Triton. Inner satellites are distinguished from other regular satellites by their proximity to the parent planet, their short orbital periods, their low mass, small size, and irregular shapes.

Nice model astrophysical model of planetary migration in the Solar System

The Nicemodel is a scenario for the dynamical evolution of the Solar System. It is named for the location of the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, where it was initially developed, in 2005 in Nice, France. It proposes the migration of the giant planets from an initial compact configuration into their present positions, long after the dissipation of the initial protoplanetary disk. In this way, it differs from earlier models of the Solar System's formation. This planetary migration is used in dynamical simulations of the Solar System to explain historical events including the Late Heavy Bombardment of the inner Solar System, the formation of the Oort cloud, and the existence of populations of small Solar System bodies including the Kuiper belt, the Neptune and Jupiter trojans, and the numerous resonant trans-Neptunian objects dominated by Neptune. Its success at reproducing many of the observed features of the Solar System means that it is widely accepted as the current most realistic model of the Solar System's early evolution, although it is not universally favoured among planetary scientists. Later research revealed a number of differences between the original Nice model's predictions and observations of the current Solar System, for example the orbits of the terrestrial planets and the asteroids, leading to its modification.

In astronomy, a regular moon is a natural satellite following a relatively close and prograde orbit with little orbital inclination or eccentricity. They are believed to have formed in orbit about their primary, as opposed to irregular moons, which were captured.

Retrograde and prograde motion astronomy

Retrograde motion in astronomy is, in general, orbital or rotational motion of an object in the direction opposite the rotation of its primary, that is, the central object. It may also describe other motions such as precession or nutation of the object's rotational axis. Prograde or direct motion is motion in the same direction as the primary rotates. Rotation is determined by an inertial frame of reference, such as distant fixed stars. However, retrograde and prograde can also refer to an object other than the primary if so described.

The five-planet Nice model is a recent variation of the Nice model that begins with five giant planets, the current four plus an additional ice giant, in a chain of mean-motion resonances. After the resonance chain is broken, the five giant planets undergo a period of planetesimal-driven migration, followed by an instability with gravitational encounters between planets similar to that in the original Nice model. During the instability the additional giant planet is scattered inward onto a Jupiter-crossing orbit and is ejected from the Solar System following an encounter with Jupiter. An early Solar System with five giant planets was proposed in 2011 after numerical models indicated that this is more likely to reproduce the current Solar System.

The jumping-Jupiter scenario specifies an evolution of giant-planet migration described by the Nice model, in which an ice giant is scattered inward by Saturn and outward by Jupiter, causing their semi-major axes to jump, quickly separating their orbits. The jumping-Jupiter scenario was proposed by Ramon Brasser, Alessandro Morbidelli, Rodney Gomes, Kleomenis Tsiganis, and Harold Levison after their studies revealed that the smooth divergent migration of Jupiter and Saturn resulted in an inner Solar System significantly different from the current Solar System. During this migration secular resonances swept through the inner Solar System exciting the orbits of the terrestrial planets and the asteroids, leaving the planets' orbits too eccentric, and the asteroid belt with too many high-inclination objects. The jumps in the semi-major axes of Jupiter and Saturn described in the jumping-Jupiter scenario can allow these resonances to quickly cross the inner Solar System without altering orbits excessively, although the terrestrial planets remain sensitive to its passage.

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