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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Solar System Live: Kuiper Belt Objects Update

With all the recent news about the discovery of a Kuiper Belt Object larger than Pluto (here's an update from Sky & Telescope), I've modified Solar System Live so as not to truncate the orbits of these remote objects at what used to be called the edge of the Solar System; the Orrery display is now automatically rescaled (up to a limit of 150 astronomical units) to fit the orbit of the object being tracked.

Here is the orbit of 2003 UB313, which has been getting all the press. I've chosen the heliocentric viewpoint to show how inclined the orbit is with respect to the plane of the ecliptic, as well as its eccentricity. (It's a curious coincidence [and nothing more] that the inclination and eccentricity are both about 44.2°.)

A few days earlier, the discovery of another big Kuiper Belt Object, 2003 EL61, was announced. Despite early reports, this one is smaller than Pluto. It has a tiny satellite, which permits its mass to be determined, which is about a quarter of Pluto's.

Now that people know to look for objects way out of the ecliptic as far out as 100 AU, I'll bet these are just the first of a bunch to be found in the coming years.

Posted at July 31, 2005 16:31