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Published October 10, 2005 | Published
Journal Article Open

Keck Observatory Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics Discovery and Characterization of a Satellite to the Large Kuiper Belt Object 2003 EL_(61)


The newly commissioned laser guide star adaptive optics system at Keck Observatory has been used to discover and characterize the orbit of a satellite to the bright Kuiper Belt object 2003 EL_(61). Observations over a 6 month period show that the satellite has a semimajor axis of 49,500 ± 400 km, an orbital period of 49.12 ± 0.03 days, and an eccentricity of 0.050 ± 0.003. The inferred mass of the system is (4.2 ± 0.1) × 10^(21) kg, or ~32% of the mass of Pluto and 28.6% ± 0.7% of the mass of the Pluto-Charon system. Mutual occultations occurred in 1999 and will not occur again until 2138. The orbit is fully consistent neither with one tidally evolved from an earlier closer configuration nor with one evolved inward by dynamical friction from an earlier more distant configuration.

Additional Information

© 2005 American Astronomical Society. Received 2005 July 28; accepted 2005 September 2; published 2005 October 3. This research is supported by a Presidential Early Career Award from the NASA Planetary Astronomy Program. Data presented herein were obtained at theW. 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. The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.

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