Pluto near the edge of chaos

Renu Malhotra, Takashi Ito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Many of the unusual properties of Pluto's orbit are widely accepted as evidence for the orbital migration of the giant planets in early solar system history. However, some properties remain an enigma. Pluto's long-term orbital stability is supported by two special properties of its orbit that limit the location of its perihelion in azimuth and in latitude. We revisit Pluto's orbital dynamics with a view to elucidating the individual and collective gravitational effects of the giant planets on constraining its perihelion location. While the resonant perturbations from Neptune account for the azimuthal constraint on Pluto's perihelion location, we demonstrate that the long-term and steady persistence of the latitudinal constraint is possible only in a narrow range of additional secular forcing which arises fortuitously from the particular orbital architecture of the other giant planets. Our investigations also find that Jupiter has a largely stabilizing influence whereas Uranus has a largely destabilizing influence on Pluto's orbit. Overall, Pluto's orbit is rather surprisingly close to a zone of strong chaos.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2118692119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 12 2022


  • Kuiper belt
  • Pluto
  • celestial mechanics
  • planetary systems
  • planets and satellites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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