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Published March 1, 2006 | Submitted + Published
Journal Article Open

Satellites of the largest Kuiper Belt objects


We have searched the four brightest objects in the Kuiper Belt for the presence of satellites using the newly commissioned Keck Observatory Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics system. Satellites are seen around three of the four objects: Pluto (whose satellite Charon is well-known and whose recently discovered smaller satellites are too faint to be detected), 2003 EL61 (where a second satellite is seen in addition to the previously known satellite), and 2003 UB313 (where a satellite is seen for the first time). The object 2005 FY9, the brightest Kuiper Belt object (KBO) after Pluto, does not have a satellite detectable within 0".4 with a brightness of more than 1% of the primary. The presence of satellites around three of the four brightest KBOs is inconsistent with the fraction of satellites in the Kuiper Belt at large at the 99.2% confidence level, suggesting a different formation mechanism for these largest KBO satellites. The two satellites of 2003 EL61, and the one satellite of 2003 UB313, with fractional brightnesses of 5% and 1.5%, and 2%, of their primaries, respectively, are significantly fainter relative to their primaries than other known KBO satellites, again pointing to possible differences in their origin.

Additional Information

© 2006 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2005 October 2; accepted 2006 January 23; published 2006 February 10. 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 Universities 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. We are grateful to Chuck Sorenson, James Lyke, Cynthia Wilburn, and Christine Melcher for their assistance with the observations, to Sniffen Joseph, David Collier, Nick Jordan, Teresa Kim-Pedro, and Michael Ruff for enduring long cold nights outside making sure the laser did not shoot down any airplanes, to Kris Barkume and Emily Schaller for discussions of Kuiper Belt object satellite formation and populations, and to an anonymous referee for some excellent suggestions.

Attached Files

Published - BROapj06a.pdf

Submitted - 0510029.pdf


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