Tidal locking

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Because the Moon is tidally locked, only one side is visible from Earth

Tidal locking (or captured rotation) is when one side of an astronomical body always face another. It is also called synchronous rotation. The classic example is the Moon: the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth.

A tidally locked body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner. This makes one hemisphere constantly face the partner body. Usually, at any given time only the satellite is tidally locked around the larger body, but if the difference in mass between the two bodies and their physical separation is small, each may be tidally locked to the other, as is the case between Pluto and Charon.

If the Moon were not spinning at all, it would alternately show its near and far sides to Earth, while moving around Earth in orbit.

It is possible to work out how long it takes for a particular case of tidal locking to occur.[1]

List of known tidally locked bodies[change | change source]

Solar System[change | change source]

Locked to the Earth

Locked to Mars

Locked to Jupiter

Locked to Saturn

Locked to Uranus

Locked to Neptune

Locked to Pluto

  • Charon (Pluto is itself locked to Charon)

Extra-solar[change | change source]

Libration[change | change source]

Over one lunar month more than half of the Moon's surface can be seen from the surface of the Earth.
Simulated views of the Moon over one month, demonstrating librations in latitude and longitude

Libration is an oscillating motion of orbiting bodies relative to each other. Examples include the motion of the Moon relative to Earth, or of Trojan asteroids relative to planets.

The Moon generally has one hemisphere facing the Earth, due to tidal locking. Therefore, our first view of the far side of the Moon resulted from lunar exploration in the 1960s.

However, this simple picture is only approximately true: over time, slightly more than half (about 59%) of the Moon's surface is seen from Earth due to libration.[3]

Libration is a slow rocking back and forth of the Moon as viewed from Earth, permitting an observer to see slightly different halves of the surface at different times.

References[change | change source]

  1. S.J. Peale, Rotation histories of the natural satellites, in J.A. Burns, ed. 1977. Planetary satellites. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, pp. 87–112.
  2. SPACE.com - Role reversal: Planet controls a star. [1]
  3. Spudis, Paul D. (2004). "Moon". World Book at NASA. Retrieved on 27 May 2010.