Neptunes large moon Triton may have abandoned an earlier partner to arrive in its unusual orbit around Neptune. Triton is unique among all the large moons in the solar system because it orbits Neptune in a direction opposite to the planets rotation (a "retrograde" orbit). It is unlikely to have formed in this configuration and was probably captured from elsewhere.
In the May 11 issue of the journal Nature, planetary scientists Craig Agnor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland describe a new model for the capture of planetary satellites involving a three-body gravitational encounter between a binary and a planet. According to this scenario, Triton was originally a member of a binary pair of objects orbiting the Sun. Gravitational interactions during a close approach to Neptune then pulled Triton away from its binary companion to become a satellite of Neptune.
"Weve found a likely solution to the long-standing problem of how Triton arrived in its peculiar orbit. In addition, this mechanism introduces a new pathway for the capture of satellites by planets that may be relevant to other objects in the solar system," said Agnor, a researcher in UCSCs Center for the Origin, Dynamics, and Evolution of Planets.
Tim Stephens | EurekAlert!
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