What Are Synchronous Orbits and Synchronous Rotation

^Synchronous rotation can easily be confused with synchronous orbits. In a synchronous orbit, the moon orbits always above the same point on the planet it is orbiting (this section uses the terms moon and planet, but the same principles apply to a planet and the Sun). There is only one orbital radius for each planet that produces a synchronous orbit. Synchronous rotation, on the other hand, is created by the period of the moon's rotation on its axis being the same as the period of the moon's orbit around its planet, and produces a situation where the same face of the moon is always toward its planet. Tidal locking causes synchronous rotation.

Gravitational attraction between the moon and its planet produces a tidal force on each of them, stretching each very slightly along the axis oriented toward its partner. In the case of spherical bodies, this causes them to become slightly egg-shaped; the extra stretch is called a tidal bulge. If either of the two bodies is rotating relative to the other, this tidal bulge is not stable. The rotation of the body will cause the long axis to move out of alignment with the other object, and the gravitational force will work to reshape the rotating body. Because of the relative rotation between the bodies, the tidal bulges move around the rotating body to stay in alignment with the gravitational force between the bodies. This is why ocean tides on Earth rise and fall with the rising and setting of its moon, and the same effect occurs to some extent on all rotating orbiting bodies.

in diameter. If such a thing were possible, a person could walk all the way around their circumference in about three hours. Many of these tiny objects orbit at immense distances from the planet, and almost all the outer moonlets orbit in a retrograde sense, that is, in the opposite direction than most moons. This is thought to be a strong indicator that they are trapped asteroids and did not form when Jupiter formed. The very high eccentricities of these orbits compared to the stable inner moons is further evidence for their being trapped asteroids. Trapping asteroids as they go by is a reasonable occurrence to expect from such a huge mass, but keeping trapped asteroids in stable orbits is a physically difficult feat. The orbits tend to degenerate and cause the moonlet eventually to fall into the planet. Many of Jupiter's tiny moonlets therefore may be only temporary visitors to the Jupiter

The rotation of the tidal bulge out of alignment with the body that caused it results in a small but significant force acting to slow the relative rotation of the bodies. Since the bulge requires a small amount of time to shift position, the tidal bulge of the moon is always located slightly away from the nearest point to its planet in the direction of the moon's rotation. This bulge is pulled on by the planet's gravity, resulting in a slight force pulling the surface of the moon in the opposite direction of its rotation. The rotation of the satellite slowly decreases (and its orbital momentum simultaneously increases). This is in the case where the moon's rotational period is faster than its orbital period around its planet. If the opposite is true, tidal forces increase its rate of rotation and decrease its orbital momentum.

Almost all moons in the solar system are tidally locked with their primaries, since they orbit closely and tidal force strengthens rapidly with decreasing distance. In addition, Mercury is tidally locked with the Sun in a 3:2 resonance. Mercury is the only solar system body in a 3:2 resonance with the Sun. For every two times Mercury revolves around the Sun, it rotates on its own axis three times. More subtly, the planet Venus is tidally locked with the planet Earth, so that whenever the two are at their closest approach to each other in their orbits, Venus always has the same face toward Earth (the tidal forces involved in this lock are extremely small). In general any object that orbits another massive object closely for long periods is likely to be tidally locked to it.

system. The table on page 66 lists Jupiter's moons. The moons with the most known about them are described in more detail.

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