2001 QR322: a dynamically unstable Neptune Trojan?

Horner, J. and Lykawka, P. S. (2010). 2001 QR322: a dynamically unstable Neptune Trojan? Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 405(1) pp. 49–56.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2966.2010.16441.x


Since early work on the stability of the first Neptunian Trojan, 2001 QR322, suggested that it was a dynamically stable, primordial body, it has been assumed that this applies to both that object and its more recently discovered brethren. However, it seems that things are no longer so clear-cut. In this work, we present the results of detailed dynamical simulations of the orbital behaviour of 2001 QR322. Using an ephemeris for the object that has significantly improved since earlier works, we follow the evolution of 19 683 test particles, placed on orbits within the observational error ellipse of 2001 QR322's orbit, for a period of 1 Gyr. We find that majority of these 'clones' of 2001 QR322 are dynamically unstable, exhibiting a near-exponential decay from both the Neptunian Trojan cloud (decay half-life of ∼550 Myr) and the Solar system (decay half-life of ∼590 Myr). The stability of the object within Neptune's Trojan cloud is found to be strongly dependent on the initial semimajor axis used, with these objects located at a≥ 30.30 au being significantly less stable than those interior to this value, as a result of their having initial libration amplitudes very close to a critical threshold dividing regular and irregular motion, located at ∼70°–75° (full extent of angular motion). This result suggests that if 2001 QR322 is a primordial Neptunian Trojan, it must be a representative of a population that was once significantly larger than that we see today and adds weight to the idea that the Neptune Trojans may represent a significant source of objects moving on unstable orbits between the giant planets (the Centaurs).

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