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Over here, I was shocked to learn:

The Neptune–Pluto system lies in a 3:2 orbital resonance. C.J. Cohen and E.C. Hubbard at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division discovered this in 1965.

Note: there is no cite for it.

I'm pretty sure the orbit of Pluto, including it's period, was calculated many years before 1965, to say nothing of Neptune. So how is it possible that astronomers missed the 2:3 resonance? Was orbital resonance just not a conceived concept until the sixties?

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  • $\begingroup$ According to the respective Wikipedia articles, the orbital periods of Neptune and Pluto are 60190.03 and 90465 days, respectively. The ratio is about 1.503, which seems to differ significantly from 1.5. I wonder if the figures for the periods are inaccurate -- or if the resonance doesn't have to be exact for some reason. $\endgroup$ – Keith Thompson Jul 6 '15 at 5:17
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithThompson is a difference of 0.003, or 0.2%, really that significant? $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Jul 6 '15 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ It appears to be, based only on the expressed precision of the orbital periods. It's likely I'm missing something. $\endgroup$ – Keith Thompson Jul 6 '15 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithThompson another thought I just had was that Mercury's 2:3 rotation:revolution resonance was not discovered until 1965. Previously it was thought to be 1:1, so maybe that triggered something. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Jul 7 '15 at 4:01
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This much, I can answer:

Was orbital resonance just not a conceived concept until the sixties?

Laplace recognized orbital resonance long before then, and he died in 1827. I looked, couldn't find a precise year of publication.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_resonance#Laplace_resonance

Now, 3/2 resonances were perhaps suggested/discovered quite a bit later, I'm not sure.

Some mathematics on the subject in the following link, a little bit over my skill-set, but it makes the point of stable resonance.

http://www.applet-magic.com/solaresonance.htm

Also, the link points out that the the first resonance discovered, Io, Europa, Ganymede the 1-2-4 resonance, have ratios of 2.0076 and 2.0143, or, 0.4% and 0.7% off resonance.

I'm tempted to say that small variations like that fall within a stable zone, but I'd basically just be guessing. I can't say for sure.

Pluto was discovered in 1930 and Charon, it's rather large moon, not discovered till 1977. Perhaps in the 1930s, Pluto was no longer cutting edge physics and all the big brains were looking at Quantum physics, Hubble's discovery and other galaxies, implications from Einstein's discoveries, such as black holes and Nuclear bombs . . . but again, I'm only speculating. It does seem that a discovery of the 3/2 resonance should have come before 1965 and I think it's a good question.

Not to take this too off subject, but I love the story of how Neptune was discovered. Short summary here: http://coolcosmos.ipac.caltech.edu/ask/146--When-was-Neptune-discovered-

Longer one here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_of_Neptune

My favorite potential orbital resonance is the Jupiter/Mercury one, which could, eventually, pull Mercury away from the sun.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stability_of_the_Solar_System#Mercury.E2.80.93Jupiter_1:1_perihelion-precession_resonance

The Jupiter/Mercury resonance is described as "coincidence" in the article, where as, Pluto's 3/2 with Neptune and Jupiter's 3 inner moons are (I think), probobly not coincidental resonance but some form of stable orbits.

Hope you don't mind my amateur/hobbyist answer.

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    $\begingroup$ "Now, 3/2 resonances were perhaps suggested/discovered quite a bit later, I'm not sure." A thought I just had was that Mercury's 2:3 rotation:revolution resonance was not discovered until 1965. Previously it was thought to be 1:1, so maybe that triggered something. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Jul 7 '15 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ @DrZ214 I didn't see your comment until just now. That's very interesting about Mercury. I plan to read up on that. $\endgroup$ – userLTK Apr 27 '18 at 5:31

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