A fundamental aspect of the three-body problem is its stability. Most stability studies have focused on the co-planar three-body problem, deriving analytic criteria for the dynamical stability of such pro/retrograde systems. Numerical studies of inclined systems phenomenologically mapped their stability regions, but neither complement it by theoretical framework, nor provided satisfactory fit for their dependence on mutual inclinations. Here we present a novel approach to study the stability of hierarchical three-body systems at arbitrary inclinations, which accounts not only for the instantaneous stability of such systems, but also for the secular stability and evolution through Lidov-Kozai cycles and evection. We generalize the Hill-stability criteria to arbitrarily inclined triple systems, explain the existence of quasi-stable regimes and characterize the inclination dependence of their stability. We complement the analytic treatment with an extensive numerical study, to test our analytic results. We find excellent correspondence up to high inclinations (~120°), beyond which the agreement is marginal. At such high inclinations, the stability radius is larger, the ratio between the outer and inner periods becomes comparable and our secular averaging approach is no longer strictly valid. We therefore combine our analytic results with polynomial fits to the numerical results to obtain a generalized stability formula for triple systems at arbitrary inclinations. Besides providing a generalized secular-based physical explanation for the stability of non-co-planar systems, our results have direct implications for any triple systems and, in particular, binary planets and moon/satellite systems; we briefly discuss the latter as a test case for our models.
- Asteroids: general
- Celestial mechanics
- Minor planets
- Planets and satellites: dynamical evolution and stability