KBOs and Centaurs
The Kuiper belt is a large population of icy bodies that orbit the sun beyond the orbit of Neptune. It is thought to have originated from the primordial disk in which the sun and planets formed. The Kuiper belt is particularly fascinating because it is possibly the least thermally modified region of the solar system and likely contains a primordial population of objects. Studies of the Kuiper belt thus lead to a better understanding of the formation and evolution of the solar system. Knowledge concerning the formation of our solar system can also lead to an enlightened concept of planetary formaion processes in extra-solar, protoplanetary disks.
We are collaborating with colleagues at Lowell Observatory as part of the Deep Ecliptic Survey (DES) to discover Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) and Centaurs. The survey employs the wide-field Mosaic CCD cameras on 4-m telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory and Cerro Tololo International Observatory. Granted formal survey status from 2001-2005, the survey is designed to discover and determine the orbits of KBOs and Centaurs, with a goal of determining how dynamical phase space is filled in the outermost solar system. To date, the DES has discovered over 600 new objects, including seven of the currently known binary KBO systems and the first Neptune Trojan. The DES also discovered the first of what is becoming a class of distant perihelion objects, 2000CR105, which travels nearly 700 AU from the sun.
We are also involved with physical studies of KBOs, using the MIT-built Magellan Instant Camera (MagIC) on the 6.5-m Clay telescope at Las Campanas Observatory to determine KBO light curves and colors. These studies will provide insight into the composition of the objects and environmental conditions in the Kuiper belt.
For more information, please see our Kuiper Belt publications.