Report

The Extreme Kuiper Belt Binary 2001 QW322

Science  17 Oct 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5900, pp. 432-434
DOI: 10.1126/science.1163148

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Abstract

The study of binary Kuiper Belt objects helps to probe the dynamic conditions present during planet formation in the solar system. We report on the mutual-orbit determination of 2001 QW322, a Kuiper Belt binary with a very large separation whose properties challenge binary-formation and -evolution theories. Six years of tracking indicate that the binary's mutual-orbit period is ≈25 to 30 years, that the orbit pole is retrograde and inclined 50° to 62° from the ecliptic plane, and, most surprisingly, that the mutual orbital eccentricity is <0.4. The semimajor axis of 105,000 to 135,000 kilometers is 10 times that of other near-equal-mass binaries. Because this weakly bound binary is prone to orbital disruption by interlopers, its lifetime in its present state is probably less than 1 billion years.

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