Welcome to the new version of CaltechAUTHORS. Login is currently restricted to library staff. If you notice any issues, please email coda@library.caltech.edu
Published September 2004 | Accepted Version + Published
Journal Article Open

The Size Distribution of Trans-Neptunian Bodies


We search 0.02 deg^2 of the invariable plane for trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) 25 AU or more distant using the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. With 22 ks per pointing, the search is more than 50% complete for m_(606W) ≤ 29.2. Three new objects are discovered, the faintest with mean magnitude m = 28.3 (diameter ≈25 km), which is 3 mag fainter than any previously well-measured solar system body. Each new discovery is verified with a follow-up 18 ks observation with the ACS, and the detection efficiency is verified with implanted objects. The three detections are a factor of ~25 less than would be expected under extrapolation of the power-law differential sky density for brighter objects, Σ(m)≡dN/dm dΩ ∝ 10^(αm) with α ≈ 0.63. Analysis of the ACS data and recent TNO surveys from the literature reveals departures from this power law at both the bright and faint ends. Division of the TNO sample by distance and inclination into "classical Kuiper belt" (CKB) and "Excited" samples reveals that Σ(m) differs for the two populations at 96% confidence, and both samples show departures from power-law behavior. A double power-law Σ(m) adequately fits all data. Implications of these departures include the following: (1) The total mass of the "classical" Kuiper belt is ≈0.010 M_⊕, only a few times Pluto's mass, and is predominantly in the form of ~100 km bodies (barring a secondary peak in the mass distribution at sub–10 km sizes). The mass of Excited objects is perhaps a few times larger. (2) The Excited class has a shallower bright-end magnitude (and, presumably, size) distribution; the largest objects, including Pluto, make up tens of percent of the total mass whereas the largest CKB objects are only ~2% of its mass. (3) The derived size distributions predict that the largest Excited body should be roughly the mass of Pluto, and the largest CKB body should have m_R ≈ 20—hence, Pluto is feasibly considered to have originated from the same physical process as the Excited TNOs. (4) The observed deficit of small TNOs occurs in the size regime where present-day collisions are expected to be disruptive, suggesting extensive depletion by collisions. The Excited and CKB size distributions are qualitatively similar to some numerical models of growth and erosion, with both accretion and erosion appearing to have proceeded to more advanced stages in the Excited class than in the CKB. (5) The lack of detections of distant TNOs implies that if a mass of TNOs comparable to the CKB is present near the invariable plane beyond 50 AU, that distant population must be composed primarily of bodies smaller than ≈40 km. (6) There are too few small CKB objects for this population to be the reservoir of Jupiter-family comet precursors without a significant upturn in the population at diameters under 20 km. With optimistic model parameters and extrapolations, the Excited population could be the source reservoir. Implications of these discoveries for the formation and evolution of the outer solar system are discussed.

Additional Information

© 2004 American Astronomical Society. Received 2003 August 26; accepted 2004 May 25. Based on observations made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, obtained at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS 5-26555. These observations are associated with program GO-9433. We thank Tony Roman of STScI for his efforts in successfully scheduling this intensive program on HST, and Ron Gilliland for cross-checks and guidance on the program. Rahul Dave and Matt Lehner configured and maintained the computing cluster at Penn. Jay Anderson provided distortion maps of the ACS WFC. Hal Levison provided key advice based upon experience with the WFPC2 search. This work was supported by STScI grants GO-9433.05 and GO-9433.06. Support for program GO-9433 was provided by NASA through a grant from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS 5-26555. R. M. acknowledges support from NASA grants NAG 5-10346 and NAG 5-11661. Some of the data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation.

Attached Files

Published - 1538-3881_128_3_1364.pdf

Accepted Version - 0308467.pdf


Files (1.4 MB)
Name Size Download all
701.4 kB Preview Download
720.5 kB Preview Download

Additional details

August 22, 2023
October 19, 2023