Letter

Nature 435, 462-465 (26 May 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03540; Received 6 December 2004; Accepted 11 March 2005

Chaotic capture of Jupiter's Trojan asteroids in the early Solar System

A. Morbidelli1, H. F. Levison1,2, K. Tsiganis1 & R. Gomes1,3

  1. Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, BP 4229, 06304 Nice Cedex 4, France
  2. Department of Space Studies, Southwest Research Institute, 1050 Walnut Street, Suite 400, Boulder, Colorado 80302, USA
  3. GEA/OV/UFRJ and ON/MCT, Ladeira do Pedro Antonio, 43-Centro 20.080-090, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil

Correspondence to: A. Morbidelli1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.M. (Email: morby@obs-nice.fr).

Jupiter's Trojans are asteroids that follow essentially the same orbit as Jupiter, but lead or trail the planet by an angular distance of approx60 degrees (co-orbital motion). They are hypothesized to be planetesimals that formed near Jupiter and were captured onto their current orbits while Jupiter was growing1, 2, possibly with the help of gas drag3, 4, 5, 6 and/or collisions7. This idea, however, cannot explain some basic properties of the Trojan population, in particular its broad orbital inclination distribution, which ranges up to approx40 degrees (ref. 8). Here we show that the Trojans could have formed in more distant regions and been subsequently captured into co-orbital motion with Jupiter during the time when the giant planets migrated by removing neighbouring planetesimals9, 10, 11, 12. The capture was possible during a short period of time, just after Jupiter and Saturn crossed their mutual 1:2 resonance, when the dynamics of the Trojan region were completely chaotic. Our simulations of this process satisfactorily reproduce the orbital distribution of the Trojans and their total mass.

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