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Astrobiology. 2013 Apr;13(4):315-23. doi: 10.1089/ast.2012.0892. Epub 2013 Mar 28.

Capture of terrestrial-sized moons by gas giant planets.

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Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, School of Science, Erie, Pennsylvania, PA 16563-0203, USA.


Terrestrial moons with masses >0.1 M (symbol in text) possibly exist around extrasolar giant planets, and here we consider the energetics of how they might form. Binary-exchange capture can occur if a binary-terrestrial object (BTO) is tidally disrupted during a close encounter with a giant planet and one of the binary members is ejected while the other remains as a moon. Tidal disruption occurs readily in the deep gravity wells of giant planets; however, the large encounter velocities in the wells make binary exchange more difficult than for planets of lesser mass. In addition, successful capture favors massive binaries with large rotational velocities and small component mass ratios. Also, since the interaction tends to leave the captured moons on highly elliptical orbits, permanent capture is only possible around planets with sizable Hill spheres that are well separated from their host stars.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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