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Resonant interactions and chaotic rotation of Pluto's small moons

Resonant interactions and chaotic rotation of Pluto's small moons

Publication date: 05 June 2015

Authors: M. R. Showalter & D. P. Hamilton

Journal: Nature
Volume: 522
Page: 45-49
Year: 2015

Copyright: 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Four small moons—Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra—follow near-circular, near-equatorial orbits around the central 'binary planet' comprising Pluto and its large moon, Charon. New observational details of the system have emerged following the discoveries of Kerberos and Styx. Here we report that Styx, Nix and Hydra are tied together by a three-body resonance, which is reminiscent of the Laplace resonance linking Jupiter's moons Io, Europa and Ganymede. Perturbations by the other bodies, however, inject chaos into this otherwise stable configuration. Nix and Hydra have bright surfaces similar to that of Charon. Kerberos may be much darker, raising questions about how a heterogeneous satellite system might have formed. Nix and Hydra rotate chaotically, driven by the large torques of the Pluto–Charon binary.

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