The binary KBO object 1998WW31.

Veillet, C., J. Parker, I. Griffin, B. Marsden, A. Doressoundiram, M. W. Buie, D. J. Tholen, M. Connelley, and M. Holman. Nature 416, 711-713 (2002). .


The recent discovery of a binary asteroid during a spacecraft fly-by generated keen interest, because the orbital parameters of binaries can provide measures of the masses, and mutual eclipses could allow us to determine individual sizes and bulk densities. Several binary near-Earth, main-belt and Trojan asteroids have subsequently been discovered. The Kuiper belt-the region of space extending from Neptune (at 30 astronomical units) to well over 100AU and believed to be the source of new short-period comets-has become a fascinating new window onto the formation of our Solar System since the first member object, not counting Pluto, was discovered in 1992. Here we report that the Kuiper-belt object 1998 WW31 is binary with a highly eccentric orbit (eccentricity, e ~ 0.8) and a long period (about 570 days), very different from the Pluto/Charon system, which was hitherto the only previously known binary in the Kuiper belt. Assuming a density in the range of 1 to 2gcm-3, the albedo of the binary components is between 0.05 and 0.08, close to the value of 0.04 generally assumed for Kuiper-belt objects.

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