Rapid dynamical chaos in an exoplanetary system

Katherine M. Deck, Matthew J. Holman, Eric Agol, Joshua A. Carter, Jack J. Lissauer, Darin Ragozzine, Joshua N. Winn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


We report on the long-term dynamical evolution of the two-planet Kepler-36 system, which consists of a super-Earth and a sub-Neptune in a tightly packed orbital configuration. The orbits of the planets, which we studied through numerical integrations of initial conditions that are consistent with observations of the system, are chaotic with a Lyapunov time of only 10years. The chaos is a consequence of a particular set of orbital resonances, with the inner planet orbiting 34times for every 29 orbits of the outer planet. The rapidity of the chaos is due to the interaction of the 29:34 resonance with the nearby first-order 6:7 resonance, in contrast to the usual case in which secular terms in the Hamiltonian play a dominant role. Only one contiguous region of phase space, accounting for 4.5% of the sample of initial conditions studied, corresponds to planetary orbits that do not show large-scale orbital instabilities on the timescale of our integrations (200millionyears). Restricting the orbits to this long-lived region allows a refinement of estimates of the masses and radii of the planets. We find that the long-lived region consists of the initial conditions that satisfy the Hill stability criterion by the largest margin. Any successful theory for the formation of this system will need to account for why its current state is so close to unstable regions of phase space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL21
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 10 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • celestial mechanics
  • planets and satellites: dynamical evolution and stability


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