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Tidal evolution and the Pluto-Charon system

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We analyze the system formed by Pluto and its satellite Charon from the point of view of the theory of tidal evolution. The singular feature of the system, i.e. the configuration of complete synchronism which has been suggested by the available data, is found to represent the stable end-product of the evolution. The time needed for the synchronization is shown to be less than the age of the solar system, provided that Pluto's tidal dissipation function is smaller than 104–105. Moreover, the initial orbital radius of the system could not be largerthan two or three times the present radius, so that Charon has been always a close satellite.

Finally, we discuss Lyttleton's hypothesis that Pluto is an escaped satellite of Neptune, suggesting that a possible mechanism of Pluto's ejection could be connected with a retrograde capture of Triton by Neptune or with the subsequent tidal evolution of Triton's orbit.

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Farinella, P., Milani, A., Nobili, A.M. et al. Tidal evolution and the Pluto-Charon system. The Moon and the Planets 20, 415–421 (1979). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00897349

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  • Solar System
  • Close Satellite
  • Dissipation Function
  • Complete Synchronism
  • Orbital Radius