Solar System Research

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 123–128 | Cite as

A Nonequilibrium Figure of Saturn’s Satellite Iapetus and the Origin of the Equatorial Ridge on Its Surface

  • B. P. Kondratyev


The structure, dynamical equilibrium, and evolution of Saturn’s moon Iapetus are studied. It has been shown that, in the current epoch, the oblateness of the satellite ε2 ≈ 0.046 does not correspond to its angular velocity of rotation, which causes the secular spherization behavior of the ice shell of Iapetus. To study this evolution, we apply a spheroidal model, containing a rock core and an ice shell with an external surface ε2, to Iapetus. The model is based on the equilibrium finite-difference equation of the Clairaut theory, while the model parameters are taken from observations. The mean radius of the rock core and the oblateness of its level surface, ε1 ≈ 0.028, were determined. It was found that Iapetus is covered with a thick ice shell, which is 56.6% of the mean radius of the figure. We analyze a role of the core in the evolution of the shape of a gravitating figure. It was determined that the rock core plays a key part in the settling of the ice masses of the equatorial bulge, which finally results in the formation of a large circular equatorial ridge on the surface of the satellite. From the known mean altitude of this ice ridge, it was found that, in the epoch of its formation, the rotation period of Iapetus was 166 times shorter than that at present, as little as T ≈ 11h27m. This is consistent with the fact that a driving force of the evolution of the satellite in our model was its substantial despinning. The model also predicts that the ice ridge should be formed more intensively in the leading (dark and, consequently, warmer) hemisphere of the satellite, where the ice is softer. This inference agrees with the observations: in the leading hemisphere of Iapetus, the ridge is actually high and continuous everywhere, while it degenerates into individual ice peaks in the opposite colder hemisphere.


rock–ice satellites of the planets Saturn’s system Iapetus equilibrium figures evolution models 


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© Pleiades Publishing, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sternberg Astronomical InstituteMoscowRussia
  2. 2.Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  3. 3.Pulkovo ObservatoryRussian Academy of SciencesSt. PetersburgRussia

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