A Brief History of Trans-Neptunian Space

Astronomy and Astrophysics – Astrophysics

Scientific paper

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Final proofed version for Protostars and Planets V; some numbers adjusted by factors of 2; references updated

Scientific paper

The Edgeworth-Kuiper belt encodes the dynamical history of the outer solar system. Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) bear witness to coagulation physics, the evolution of planetary orbits, and external perturbations from the solar neighborhood. We critically review the present-day belt's observed properties and the theories designed to explain them. Theories are organized according to a possible time-line of events. In chronological order, epochs described include (1) coagulation of KBOs in a dynamically cold disk, (2) formation of binary KBOs by fragmentary collisions and gravitational captures, (3) stirring of KBOs by Neptune-mass planets (``oligarchs''), (4) eviction of excess oligarchs, (5) continued stirring of KBOs by remaining planets whose orbits circularize by dynamical friction, (6) planetary migration and capture of Resonant KBOs, (7) creation of the inner Oort cloud by passing stars in an open stellar cluster, and (8) collisional comminution of the smallest KBOs. Recent work underscores how small, collisional, primordial planetesimals having low velocity dispersion permit the rapid assembly of ~5 Neptune-mass oligarchs at distances of 15-25 AU. We explore the consequences of such a picture. We propose that Neptune-mass planets whose orbits cross into the Kuiper belt for up to ~20 Myr help generate the high-perihelion members of the hot Classical disk and Scattered belt. By contrast, raising perihelia by sweeping secular resonances during Neptune's migration might fill these reservoirs too inefficiently when account is made of how little primordial mass might reside in bodies having sizes of order 100 km. These and other frontier issues in trans-Neptunian space are discussed quantitatively.

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