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Physics  2009 

The Rotation of Janus and Epimetheus

DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2009.06.023

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Epimetheus, a small moon of Saturn, has a rotational libration (an oscillation about synchronous rotation) of 5.9 +- 1.2 degrees, placing Epimetheus in the company of Earth's Moon and Mars' Phobos as the only natural satellites for which forced rotational libration has been detected. The forced libration is caused by the satellite's slightly eccentric orbit and non-spherical shape. Detection of a moon's forced libration allows us to probe its interior by comparing the measured amplitude to that predicted by a shape model assuming constant density. A discrepancy between the two would indicate internal density asymmetries. For Epimetheus, the uncertainties in the shape model are large enough to account for the measured libration amplitude. For Janus, on the other hand, although we cannot rule out synchronous rotation, a permanent offset of several degrees between Janus' minimum moment of inertia (long axis) and the equilibrium sub-Saturn point may indicate that Janus does have modest internal density asymmetries. The rotation states of Janus and Epimetheus experience a perturbation every four years, as the two moons "swap" orbits. The sudden change in the orbital periods produces a free libration about synchronous rotation that is subsequently damped by internal friction. We calculate that this free libration is small in amplitude (<0.1 degree) and decays quickly (a few weeks, at most), and is thus below the current limits for detection using Cassini images.


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