Discovery of a Planetary-sized Object in the Scattered Kuiper Belt
We present the discovery and initial physical and dynamical characterization of the object 2003 UB313. The object is sufficiently bright that for all reasonable values of the albedo it is certain to be larger than Pluto. Prediscovery observations back to 1989 are used to obtain an orbit with extremely small errors. The object is currently at aphelion in what appears to be a typical orbit for a scattered Kuiper Belt object, except that it is inclined by about 44° from the ecliptic. The presence of such a large object at this extreme inclination suggests that high-inclination Kuiper Belt objects formed preferentially closer to the Sun. Observations from Gemini Observatory show that the infrared spectrum is, like that of Pluto and 2005 FY9, dominated by the presence of frozen methane, although visible photometry shows that the object is almost neutral in color compared to Pluto's extremely red color. 2003 UB313 is likely to undergo substantial seasonal change over the large range of heliocentric distances that it travels; at its current distance, Pluto is likely to prove a useful analog for better understanding the range of seasonal changes on this body.
Additional Information© 2005 American Astronomical Society. Received 2005 August 29; accepted 2005 November 3; published 2005 November 22. This research is funded by the California Institute of Technology and is also supported by the NASA Planetary Astronomy program (M. E. B. and D. L. R.), and the Gemini observatory (C. A. T.). We greatly appreciate helpful comments from Hal Levison and Eliot Young as referees. Parts of this research are based on observations obtained at the Gemini Observatory, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the NSF on behalf of the Gemini partnership: the National Science Foundation (US), the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (UK), the National Research Council (Canada), CONICYT (Chile), the Australian Research Council (Australia), CNPq (Brazil), and CONICET (Argentina). Gemini observations included in this work were taken as part of program GN-2004B-Q-2.
Published - 1538-4357_635_1_L97.pdf
Submitted - 0508633.pdf