DDA 33rd Meeting, Mt. Hood, OR, April 2002
Session 15. Solar System
Wednesday, April 24, 2002, 1:00-2:20pm

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[15.03] The Obliquities of the Giant Planets

D.P. Hamilton (U. Maryland & SwRI), Wm.R. Ward (SwRI)

Jupiter has by far the smallest obliquity (~3o) of the planets (not counting tidally de-spun Mercury and Venus) which may be reflective of its formation by hydrodynamic gas flow rather than stochastic impacts. Saturn's obliquity (~26o), however, seems to belie this simple formation picture. But since the spin angular momentum of any planet is much smaller than its orbital angular momentum, post-formation obliquity can be strongly modified by passing through secular spin-orbit resonances, i.e., when the spin axis precession rate of the planet matches one of the frequencies describing the precession of the orbit plane. Spin axis precession is due to the solar torque on both the oblate figure of the planet and any orbiting satellites. In the case of Jupiter, the torque on the Galilean satellites is the principal cause of its 4.5*105 year precession; Saturn's precession of 1.8*106 years is dominated by Titan. In the past, the planetary spin axis precession rates should have been much faster due to the massive circumplanetary disks from which the current satellites condensed.

The regression of the orbital node of a planet is due to the gravitational perturbations of the other planets. Nodal regression is not uniform, but is instead a composite of the planetary system's normal modes. For Jupiter and Saturn, the principal frequency is the nu16, with a period of ~ 49,000 years; the amplitude of this term is I ~0o.36 for Jupiter and I ~0o.90 for Saturn. In spite of the small amplitudes, slow adiabatic passages through this resonance (due to circumplanetary disk dispersal) could increase planetary obliquities from near zero to ~ [tan1/3 I] ~10o. We will discuss scenarios in which giant planet obliquities are affected by this and other resonances, and will use Jupiter's low obliquity to constrain the mass and duration of a satellite precursor disk.

DPH acknowledges support from NSF Career Grant AST 9733789 and WRW is grateful to the NASA OSS and PGG programs.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 34, #3
© 2002. The American Astronomical Society.