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No. 58: Jul-Aug 1988

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Chaotic Dynamics In The Solar System

The following abstract appeared in a 1988 issue of Eos, a weekly publication of the American Geophysical Union.

"Newton's equations have chaotic solutions as well as regular solutions. The solar system is generally perceived as evolving with clockwork regularity, yet there are several physical situations in the solar system where chaotic solutions of Newton's equations play an important role. There are physical examples of both chaotic rotation and chaotic orbital evolution.

"Saturn's satellite Hyperion is currently tumbling chaotically, its rotation and spin axis orientation undergo significant irregular variations on a time scale of only a couple of orbit periods. Many other satellites in the solar system have had chaotic rotations in the past. It is not possible to tidally evolve into a synchronous rotation without passing through a chaotic zone. For irregularly shaped satellites this chaotic zone is attitude-unstable and chaotic tumbling ensues. This episode of chaotic tumbling probably lasts on the order of the tidal despinning timescale. For example, the Martian satellites Phobos and Deimos tumbled before they were captured into synchronous rotation for a time interval on the order of 10 million years and 100 million years, respectively. This episode of chaotic tumbling could have had a significant effect on the orbital histories of these satellites."

Theis abstract continues, naming as other candidates for chaotic histories: some of the asteroids, Miranda (a satellite of Uranus), and the planet Pluto. (Wisdom, J.; "Chaotic Dynamics in the Solar System," Eos, 69:300, 1988. Also see: Kerr, Richard A.; "Pluto's Orbital Motion Looks Chaotic," Science, 240: 986, 1988.)

Comment. We have been assured often, particularly in the days of Velikovsky, that the solar system has been stable for billions of years! Yet, Wisdom states very clearly above that synchrony cannot be evolved without passing through a chaotic zone. The solar system abounds in resonances, not the least of which is the earth-Venus resonance. For more on this, see ABB1 in our catalog: The Sun and Solar System Debris. This volume is described here.

From Science Frontiers #58, JUL-AUG 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987