1932

Abstract

The physical basis of chaos in the solar system is now better understood: In all cases investigated so far, chaotic orbits result from overlapping resonances. Perhaps the clearest examples are found in the asteroid belt. Overlapping resonances account for its Kirkwood gaps and were used to predict and find evidence for very narrow gaps in the outer belt. Further afield, about one new “short-period” comet is discovered each year. They are believed to come from the “Kuiper Belt” (at 40 AU or more) via chaotic orbits produced by mean-motion and secular resonances with Neptune. Finally, the planetary system itself is not immune from chaos. In the inner solar system, overlapping secular resonances have been identified as the possible source of chaos. For example, Mercury, in 1012 years, may suffer a close encounter with Venus or plunge into the Sun. In the outer solar system, three-body resonances have been identified as a source of chaos, but on an even longer time scale of 109 times the age of the solar system. On the human time scale, the planets do follow their orbits in a stately procession, and we can predict their trajectories for hundreds of thousands of years. That is because the mavericks, with shorter instability times, have long since been ejected. The solar system is not stable; it is just old!

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/content/journals/10.1146/annurev.astro.39.1.581
2001-09-01
2024-06-19
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  • Article Type: Review Article
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