Pluto’s orbit is very chaotic, radically different from other planets: study

Ever since Pluto – the dwarf planet – was discovered in 1930, it has attracted considerable interest among astronomers, primarily because of its highly eccentric and inclined orbit. New research claims that it is also subject to chaotic disturbances and changes on shorter time scales. At larger time scales, the orbit appears relatively stable. What this really means is that Pluto’s orbit is radically different from that of the other planets. Most planets follow nearly circular orbits around the Sun near its equator. However, Pluto follows a very elliptical orbit.

Pluto’s orbit is inclined 17 degrees to the solar system’s ecliptic plane. Pluto takes 248 years to make a single orbit around the Sun. This also means that Pluto spends 20 years during each cycle orbiting closer to the Sun than Neptune.

As these two planets intersect, what keeps them from colliding? The researchers say an orbital resonance condition known as “mean motion resonance” keeps them from colliding. Pluto’s orbit has a stable mean motion resonance of 3:2 with Neptune. For every two orbits Pluto makes around the sun, Neptune makes three, preventing a collision between them.

The research was led by Dr. Renu Malhotra, from the University of Arizona, and Takashi Ito, from the Chiba Institute of Technology. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We demonstrate that the orbital architecture of giant planets lies in a narrow niche in which Pluto-like orbits are practically stable on giga-year time scales, while nearby are highly chaotic orbits,” write the researchers in the article.

They also say that their investigations have shown that Jupiter has a largely stabilizing influence while Uranus has a largely destabilizing influence on Pluto’s orbit. Overall, Pluto’s orbit is quite surprisingly close to an area of ​​strong chaos, they add.

Pluto was discovered in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. It was first visited on July 14, 2015 by NASA’s New Horizons mission.


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