Survival of Trojan-type companions of Neptune during primordial planet migration

Stephen J. Kortenkamp, Renu Malhotra, Tatiana Michtchenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


We investigate the survivability of Trojan-type companions of Neptune during primordial radial migration of the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. We adopt the usual planet migration model in which the migration speed decreases exponentially with a characteristic time scale τ (the e-folding time). We perform a series of numerical simulations, each involving the migrating giant planets plus ∼ 1000 test particle Neptune Trojans with initial distributions of orbital eccentricity, inclination, and libration amplitude similar to those of the known jovian Trojans asteroids. We analyze these simulations to measure the survivability of Neptune's Trojans as a function of migration rate. We find that orbital migration with the characteristic time scale τ = 106 years allows about 35% of preexisting Neptune Trojans to survive to 5τ, by which time the giant planets have essentially reached their final orbits. In contrast, slower migration with τ = 107 years yields only a ∼ 5% probability of Neptune Trojans surviving to a time of 5τ. Interestingly, we find that the loss of Neptune Trojans during planetary migration is not a random diffusion process. Rather, losses occur almost exclusively during discrete prolonged episodes when Trojan particles are swept by secondary resonances associated with mean-motion commensurabilities of Uranus with Neptune. These secondary resonances arise when the circulation frequencies, f, of critical arguments for Uranus-Neptune mean-motion near-resonances (e.g., f1:2UN, f4:7UN) are commensurate with harmonics of the libration frequency of the critical argument for the Neptune-Trojan 1:1 mean-motion resonance (f1:1NT). Trojans trapped in the secondary resonances typically have their libration amplitudes amplified until they escape the 1:1 resonance with Neptune. Trojans with large libration amplitudes are susceptible to loss during sweeping by numerous high-order secondary resonance (e.g., f1:2UN ≈ 11f1:1NT). However, for the slower migration, with τ = 107 years, even tightly bound Neptune Trojans with libration amplitudes below 10° can be lost when they become trapped in 1:3 or 1:2 secondary resonances between f1:2UN and f1:1NT. With τ = 107 years the 1:2 secondary resonance was responsible for the single greatest episode of loss, ejecting nearly 75% of existing Neptune Trojans. This episode occurred during the late stages of planetary migration when the remnant planetesimal disk would have been largely dissipated. We speculate that if the number of bodies liberated during this event was sufficiently high they could have caused a spike in the impact rate throughout the Solar System.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-359
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Jovian planets
  • Neptune
  • Planetary dynamics
  • Resonances
  • Trans-neptunian objects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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