Astrophysics (index)about

tidal locking

(gravitational locking, captured rotation)
(locked rotation of an orbiting body)

Tidal locking is the locking of one of two orbiting bodies so the same side always faces the other body. The body's rotation period matches its orbital period, which is termed synchronous rotation. It is caused by the effects of the tidal force due to a body's orbiting peer on its rotation, which tend to speed or slow the rotation toward the tidally locked state.

Deviation from spherical symmetry (e.g., mountains) can contribute to this type of locking, but even if the planet is, for all intents and purposes, spherically symmetric, tides within a "solid" planet can result in such locking. The difference in gravitational pull on the near and far sides of the body stretches it to create an asymmetry deviant from a perfect sphere, and if the body's rotation forces the migration of this asymmetry around the body, a drag on the rotation results from the friction of the constant reshaping of the body.

The Moon and various other moons of the solar system are tidally locked to their planets.

Either the larger or smaller body can be so-locked but it is typical for the smaller body to be locked.

Being in a tidally locked state affects habitability of a planet, e.g., how much of the surface is of a temperature to hold liquid water, so settling into it can make a planet lose, or possibly gain habitability. The timescale for a (somewhat) Earth-like habitable rocky planet to become locked is on the order of 106 to 1010 years.

Venus is not tidally locked to the Sun: it has a solar day of 116.75 Earth days whereas tidal locking would result in endless days.


Referenced by:
atmospheric tide
moment of inertia factor
phase curve
rotation period
synchronous orbit
three dimensional model
tidal force
tidal heating