Tango needs two, or so people say. It turns out that the same can be said for the moons on a neighboring planet.
According to new research published in Icarus last month, two of Neptune's tiny moons – Nayad and Thalassa – orbit an unprecedented way in what scientists call "escape dance." The study calls the two moons "partners," noting that even though they walk about 1050 miles from each other – about the distance from San Diego to Seattle, they never get close enough to touch each other.
The big picture is that the moons don't like to get too close. very close to each other when they go around the eye lo planet, "said Mark Scholter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and co-author of the new book at Salon." They're much more stable if they don't get too close, and what we found is two moons that reach extraordinary lengths just to avoid one another. ”
Naiad's orbit is inclined and perfectly tuned to pass its slow-moving partner Talas while keeping a distance of a 2,200 miles from each other. During this so-called avoidance dance, Naiad goes around Neptune every seven hours. Thalassa takes seven and a half hours. Researchers say the orbit would look like an observer in an up and down pattern
"We call this recurring pattern resonance," Marina Brozovic, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory expert in Pasadena, California, and lead author of book, said in a media statement. "There are many different types of 'dances' that planets, moons and asteroids can follow, but this one has never been seen before."
This particular pattern was discovered when researchers analyzed Hubble Space Telescope observation data on NASA. The study provides their first look at the inner workings of the inner moons of Neptune.
Researchers also find that the relationship between these two moons is not only one inclined, Schoulter said, but the number of orbits is also peculiar. Naiad traveled with Neptune 73 times for every 69 times when Thalassa traveled to Neptune.
Neptune has 1
"We suspect that Nayad was struck in his inclined orbit by earlier interaction with one of the other inner moons of Neptune," Brozovic added. "It was only later, after establishing its orbital inclination, that Naiad could settle into this unusual resonance with Talas."
In fact, the discovery was surprising and pleasing to the researchers.
"It's always exciting for me to see the universe offer crazier solutions to a problem than we humans can think of," Schoulter said. "It's a weirdly weird configuration."