Astronomy

Kuiper Belt Curiosity

Science  23 Dec 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5756, pp. 1873
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5756.1873a

Pluto is only one of several large bodies in the outer solar system's Kuiper belt. Brown et al. describe the discovery of the largest object in orbit beyond Neptune, 2003 UB313, whose brightness suggests that it exceeds the size of Pluto. By tracing the object's motion in archival images, they show that it follows a highly eccentric orbit inclined 44° from the ecliptic plane, which contains most of the objects that are orbiting the Sun. Such an extreme orbit may have arisen if the body formed closer to the Sun and was scattered outward by gravitational interactions. Frozen methane is detected on the surface in infrared spectra, with characteristics very similar to Pluto. However, 2003 UB313 is not as red as Pluto, suggesting that the distribution of methane and other hydrocarbons on its surface is different and may even change with temperature as it swings closer to the Sun. — JB

Astrophys. J. 635, L97 (2005).

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