Tech2 News StaffNov 18 2019 17:09:23 IST
The eighth planet in the solar system, Neptune, has 14 months and they all revolve around the planet at their own pace. Recently, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) discovered that two ice giant moons – Naiad and Thalassa – were locked in a 'dance of avoidance'.
The two Neptune satellites are close enough to each other – about 1,850 kilometers. When they passed each other, they were around 3,540 kilometers.
Naiad moves much faster than Thalassa and dances around other months in an effort to avoid a direct collision. They did not collide with each other because Naiad's orbit tilted around 5 degrees. It took Naiad seven hours to complete one round around Neptune while Thalassa completed it in seven and a half hours.
If you live in Thalassa, you will see Naiad going up and down in a zig-zag pattern, passing twice from the top and then twice from the bottom. While scientists don't know how the two moons came to perfect this routine, they have several theories that work.
The first possibility is that the original satellite system was disrupted when Neptune captured the giant moon Triton, which caused the inner moons and rings to form from the remaining debris. [Neptunes has a total of six rings.]
"We suspect that Naiad was kicked into his tilted orbit by previous interactions with one of the moons in other Neptune," said Marina Brozović, an expert in solar system dynamics at JPL in a pers conference. "Only later, after the tilt of the orbit formed, Naiad was able to adjust to this unusual resonance with Thalassa."
"Naiad and Thalassa may have been locked together in this configuration for a very long time, because it makes their orbits more stable. They maintain peace by never getting too close," Mark Showalter, planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and co-author of the new paper said in pers conference.
Data was collected between 1981 and 2016 from the Hubble telescope and NASA Voyager 2 (the only spacecraft that visited Neptune directly on its way out of the solar system) and other space telescopes on Earth helped in the discovery of this unusual orbital pattern. The study also said that the months consisted mainly of water ice.
The study and findings were published in a journal Icarus.
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