Irregular Satellites in the Context of Planet Formation
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All four giant planets in the solar system possess irregular satellites, characterized by large, highly eccentric and/or highly inclined orbits. These bodies were likely captured from heliocentric orbit, probably in association with planet formation itself. Enabled by the use of large-format digital imagers on ground-based telescopes, new observational work has dramatically increased the known populations of irregular satellites, with 74 discoveries in the last few years. A new perspective on the irregular satellite systems is beginning to emerge.We find that the number of irregular satellites measured to a given diameter is approximately constant from planet to planet. This is surprising, given the radically different formation scenarios envisioned for the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn compared to the (much less massive and compositionally distinct) ice giants Uranus and Neptune. We discuss the new results on the irregular satellites and show how these objects might be used to discriminate amongst models of giant planet formation.
Keywordssatellites Kuiper Belt gas giant ice giant planet formation
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