It was believed until very recently that a near-equatorial satellite would always keep up with the planet’s equator (with oscillations in inclination, but without a secular drift). As explained in Efroimsky and Goldreich [Astronomy & Astrophysics (2004) Vol. 415, pp. 1187–1199], this misconception originated from a wrong interpretation of a (mathematically correct) result obtained in terms of non-osculating orbital elements. A similar analysis carried out in the language of osculating elements will endow the planetary equations with some extra terms caused by the planet’s obliquity change. Some of these terms will be non-trivial, in that they will not be amendments to the disturbing function. Due to the extra terms, the variations of a planet’s obliquity may cause a secular drift of its satellite orbit inclination. In this article we set out the analytical formalism for our study of this drift. We demonstrate that, in the case of uniform precession, the drift will be extremely slow, because the first-order terms responsible for the drift will be short-period and, thus, will have vanishing orbital averages (as anticipated 40 years ago by Peter Goldreich), while the secular terms will be of the second order only. However, it turns out that variations of the planetary precession make the first-order terms secular. For example, the planetary nutations will resonate with the satellite’s orbital frequency and, thereby, may instigate a secular drift. A detailed study of this process will be offered in a subsequent publication, while here we work out the required mathematical formalism and point out the key aspects of the dynamics.

Keywords

near-equatorial satellites of oblate planetscontact orbital elements