The eccentric kozai mechanism for a test particle

Yoram Lithwick*, Smadar Naoz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


We study the dynamical evolution of a test particle that orbits a star in the presence of an exterior massive planet, considering octupole-order secular interactions. In the standard Kozai mechanism (SKM), the planet's orbit is circular and so the particle conserves vertical angular momentum. As a result, the particle's orbit oscillates periodically, exchanging eccentricity for inclination. However, when the planet's orbit is eccentric, the particle's vertical angular momentum varies and its Kozai oscillations are modulated on longer timescales - we call this the eccentric Kozai mechanism (EKM). The EKM can lead to behavior that is dramatically different from the SKM. In particular, the particle's orbit can flip from prograde to retrograde and back again, and it can reach arbitrarily high eccentricities given enough time. We map out the conditions under which this dramatic behavior (flipping and extreme eccentricities) occurs and show that when the planet's eccentricity is sufficiently high, it occurs quite generically. For example, when the planet's eccentricity exceeds a few percent of the ratio of semimajor axes (outer to inner), around half of randomly oriented test particle orbits will flip and reach extreme eccentricities. The SKM has often been invoked for bringing pairs of astronomical bodies (star-star, planet-star, compact-object pairs) close together. Including the effect of the EKM will enhance the rate at which such matchmaking occurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number94
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011


  • gravitation
  • planets and satellites: dynamical evolution and stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The eccentric kozai mechanism for a test particle'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this