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Reassessing the origin of Triton

By E. Nogueira, R. Brasser and R. Gomes

Abstract

Agnor & Hamilton (2006) demonstrated that the disruption of a binary was an effective mechanism to capture Triton. The subsequent evolution of Triton's post-capture orbit could have proceeded through gravitational tides. The study by Agnor & Hamilton (2006) is repeated in the framework of the Nice model to determine the post-capture orbit of Triton. After capture it is then subjected to tidal evolution. The perturbations from the Sun and the figure of Neptune are included. The perturbations from the Sun acting on Triton cause it to spend a long time in its high-eccentricity phase, usually of the order of 10 Myr, while the typical time to circularise to its current orbit is some 200 Myr. The current orbit of Triton is consistent with an origin through binary capture and tidal evolution, even though the model prefers Triton to be closer to Neptune than it is today. The probability of capturing Triton in this manner is approximately 0.7%. Since the capture of Triton was at most a 50% event -- since only Neptune has one, but Uranus does not -- we deduce that in the primordial trans-Neptunian disc there were 100 binaries with at least one Triton-sized member. Morbidelli et al. (2009) concludes there were some 1000 Triton-sized bodies in the trans-Neptunian proto-planetary disc, so the primordial binary fraction with at least one Triton-sized member is 10%. This value is consistent with theoretical predictions, but at the low end. If Triton was captured at the same time as Neptune's irregular satellites, the far majority of these, including Nereid, would be lost. This suggests either that Triton was captured on an orbit with a small semi-major axis a < 50 R_N (a rare event), or that it was captured before the dynamical instability of the Nice model, or that some other mechanism was at play. The issue of keeping the irregular satellites remains unresolved.Comment: Accepted in Icarus 201

Topics: Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.icarus.2011.05.003
OAI identifier: oai:arXiv.org:1105.1179
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