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Offline Refractor

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Can a moon have a moon?
« on: 06/05/2010 14:30:02 »
Geoff asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Can a moon have a moon?  Do any of the moons in our solar system have moons?  Is it theoretically possible for this to happen, or would the gravity of the planet being orbited make the arrangement too unstable?

Thanks for the newbielink:http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/podcasts/ [nonactive].

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 06/05/2010 14:30:02 by _system »


 

Online Bored chemist

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #1 on: 06/05/2010 19:31:02 »
From the sun's point of view the Earth is a moon, and we have a moon.
 

Offline LeeE

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #2 on: 07/05/2010 01:42:07 »
The Apollo Lunar Command Module was a moon of our Moon whilst in orbit around it.
 

Offline Refractor

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #3 on: 09/05/2010 10:03:35 »
OK, so theoretically moons can have moons, but presumably none of the moons in our solar system have moons (aside from maybe Charon)?
 

Offline RD

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #4 on: 09/05/2010 18:46:57 »
I think that there is no particular reason that a moon shouldn't have a moon, however it probably wouldn't be a very stable situation, as the tidal forces from the nearby planet would tend to destabilise the orbit of the moon's moon. Essentially becasue you have 3 bodies, energy can be transferred between the two moons so their orbits can change with time.

Planets are essentially moons of the sun and they have moons, so it is possible but they are a long long way from the sun so their orbits are fairly stable.
http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=19243.msg21
 

Offline Atomic-S

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #5 on: 10/05/2010 05:27:08 »
Theoretically, moons can have moons, and those can have their own moons too, so long as the ratios of masses and orbital diameters is suitable. Whether such exists is, of course, an entirely different question.
 

Offline Geezer

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #6 on: 10/05/2010 07:12:15 »
"Two's company. Three's a crowd."

I think Dave nailed it. As long as a moon has insufficient mass to "attract the attention" of the body that its planet is orbiting, all will be well. But if a moon is massive relative to its planet, bad things start to happen.
« Last Edit: 10/05/2010 08:24:08 by Geezer »
 

Offline LeeE

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #7 on: 10/05/2010 17:34:49 »
Luna is, of course, unfeasibly large, relative to its planet.
 

Offline Geezer

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #8 on: 10/05/2010 18:08:36 »
Luna is, of course, unfeasibly large, relative to its planet.

Bummer. Another perfectly good theory goes up in smoke!

Come to think of it, doesn't the Moon actually stabilize the Earth?
« Last Edit: 10/05/2010 18:10:20 by Geezer »
 

Offline LeeE

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #9 on: 11/05/2010 20:24:32 »
Apart from Earth's Luna and Pluto's Charon, the rest of the moons in our solar system are generally much smaller than their parent planet.

I'm not sure that Luna stabilises the Earth in any particular way but it certainly has a great influence upon it.  The sea and ocean tides are the most obvious effect of Luna upon Earth today but considering its size and closeness to Earth it might be possible that Luna's tidal forces are still warming the Earth in the same way that Jupiter heats Io i.e. via tidal distortion of the Earth itself.  It has been estimated that shortly after the Moon was formed, and while it was still orbiting the Earth much more closely, the actual land surface of the Earth rose and fell by several hundred metres as the Moon passed overhead.  Naturally, with the Moon now being much further away, the degree has lessened considerably, but it should still be having some effect.

It doesn't seem too outlandish to speculate that the heating of the Earth by this mechanism has helped the Earth's core stay molten for longer than it might otherwise have done.  That is just speculation though.
 

Offline RD

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #10 on: 11/05/2010 20:47:56 »
I'm not sure that Luna stabilises the Earth in any particular way

The moon has kept Earth's axial tilt (and consequently seasons) comparatively constant ...

Quote
Over the last 5 million years, the obliquity of the ecliptic (or more accurately, the obliquity of the Equator on the moving ecliptic of date) has varied from 22.0425° to 24.5044°, but for the next one million years, the range will be only from 22.2289° to 24.3472°.

Other planets may have a variable obliquity, too; for example, on Mars, the range is believed to be between 11° and 49° as a result of gravitational perturbations from other planets.
The relatively small range for the Earth is due to the stabilizing influence of the Moon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axial_tilt
« Last Edit: 11/05/2010 20:51:45 by RD »
 

Offline LeeE

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #11 on: 12/05/2010 17:01:16 »
...for example, on Mars, the range is believed to be between 11° and 49° as a result of gravitational perturbations from other planets.

Ta for that - I didn't know that Mar's tilt had ever been so extreme i.e. up to 49°
 

Offline thedoc

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #12 on: 01/06/2010 17:56:38 »
Dominic -  Well yes, it could. Among astronomical bodies, there’s quite a long hierarchy of bodies orbitingaround other bodies. Of course, the moon is orbiting around the earth and the earth around the sun. But the sun itself is orbiting about the centre of the Milky Way galaxy and thatitself we think is orbiting around within a local group of galaxies, and that we think is part of a larger super cluster of galaxies. So you can certainly add another step to that hierarchy and put a body into orbit about the moon, and that is of course what we did when we went to the moon and we sent the Apollo spacecraft to the moon.
However, each step of the hierarchy tends to be less stable than the previous step. It would take something quite catastrophic to take the sun out of the Milky Way galaxy but to strip the earth out of orbit from the sun would actually be scarily easy - if a star were to pass too close to our own.Stripping the moon off the earth, we think that will probably happen on a timescale of billions of years, naturally anyway. So I think something orbiting about the moon will probably stay there for a matter of years before being shed into solar orbit.
Click to visit the show page for the podcast in which this question is answered. Alternatively, listen to the answer now or [download as MP3]
« Last Edit: 01/01/1970 01:00:00 by _system »
 

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Can a moon have a moon?
« Reply #12 on: 01/06/2010 17:56:38 »

 

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