I'm having trouble imagining how an orbiting object would get distorted by tides --- in the first instance, say, the distortion of an initial uniform dense ball of coffee grounds (of the sort John Baez likes to imagine in his web pages). I know and understand why, if it were infalling radially towards a point mass, it would be distorted into an axially symmetric ellipsoid of rotation, with the axis along the radius of infall. The eccentricity of the ellipsoid would increase with time. But how would this picture change with time if the ball were initially in a circular orbit, rather then falling radially? I can only imagine the distortion to be initially like that of our oceans as we orbit the center of mass of, say, the Earth-Moon system.