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Mathematical Problems in Engineering
Volume 2009, Article ID 897570, 11 pages
Research Article

Gravitational Capture of Asteroids by Gas Drag

FE-Guaratinguetá, Departamento de Matemática, UNESP—Universidade Estadual Paulista, 12.516-410 SP, Brazil

Received 30 July 2009; Revised 6 November 2009; Accepted 1 December 2009

Academic Editor: Silvia Maria Giuliatti Winter

Copyright © 2009 E. Vieira Neto and O. C. Winter. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Several irregular satellites of the giant planets were found in the last years. Their orbital configuration suggests that these satellites were asteroids captured by the planets. The restricted three-body problem can explain the dynamics of the capture, but the capture is temporary. It is necessary some kind of dissipative effect to turn the temporary capture into a permanent one. In this work we study an asteroid suffering a gas drag at an extended atmosphere of a planet to turn a temporary capture into a permanent one. In the primordial Solar System, gas envelopes were created around the planet. An asteroid that was gravitationally captured by the planet got its velocity reduced and could been trapped as an irregular satellite. It is well known that, depending on the time scale of the gas envelope, an asteroid will spiral and collide with the planet. So, we simulate the passage of the asteroid in the gas envelope with its density decreasing along the time. Using this approach, we found effective captures, and have a better understanding of the whole process. Finally, we conclude that the origin of the irregular satellites cannot be attributed to the gas drag capture mechanism alone.