Invariant manifolds and the capture of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

Travis E. Swenson, Martin W. Lo, Robyn M. Woollands

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) with Jupiter in 1994 was the ultimate confirmation of Eugene Shoemaker's theory that impacts are a common, fundamental process in the Solar System. On Earth, asteroid impacts have produced several near extinction level events. We tend to visualize these collisions as billiard balls hitting one another. But how, exactly, do they occur? The actual dynamics is much more complex and subtle because it is highly non-linear and involves chaos in the three-body problem. In this paper, we investigate the effects of Lyapunov orbits, halo orbits, and their associated invariant manifolds, on the orbital motion of SL9. We demonstrate that periodic orbits act as gateways to Jupiter, and their invariant manifolds controlled the dynamics of SL9 during the initial capture phase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2436-2447
Number of pages12
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Celestial mechanics
  • Comets: individual: Shoemaker-Levy 9
  • Ephemerides
  • Planets and satellites: dynamical evolution and stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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