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


Jupiter's Trojans are asteroids that follow essentially the same orbit as Jupiter, but lead or trail the planet by an angular distance of 60 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 40 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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Figure 1: The stability of Trojans during planetary migration.
Figure 2: Comparison of the orbital distribution of Trojans between model and observations.


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R.G. is grateful to the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico for financial support of his sabbatical year in the OCA observatory in Nice. The work of K.T. was supported by an EC Marie Curie Individual Fellowship. A.M. and H.F.L. thank the CNRS and the NSF for funding the collaboration between the OCA and the SWRI groups. H.F.L. is grateful to NASA's Origins and PG&G programmes.

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Correspondence to A. Morbidelli.

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Morbidelli, A., Levison, H., Tsiganis, K. et al. Chaotic capture of Jupiter's Trojan asteroids in the early Solar System. Nature 435, 462–465 (2005).

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