Authors: Harold F. Levison, Paul R. Weissman, & Martin J. Duncan
Status: 1997. Invited review for ACM96
Abstract: In the last few years, the astronomical community has witnessed a revolution in the understanding of the deep, outer regions of our planetary system. This revolution started with the discovery of the object 1992 QB1, which was the first of over 30 Kuiper Belt objects with radii ~100-200km that have now been discovered by groundbased observations. When 1992 QB1 was discovered, the Kuiper Belt was instantly transformed from a theoretical construct used to explain the orbital element distribution of short-period comets to a bona fide component of the solar system.
Since the Kuiper Belt was discovered in 1992, the amount of data, both theoretical and observational, concerning it has mushroomed. Among the new results that are discussed are: i) Billion year numerical integrations have lead to an understanding of the dynamical structure of the Kuiper Belt. However, the observed Kuiper belt orbital element distribution is not consistent with an initially uniform population of bodies perturbed by the planets in their current configuration. Thus, the observed distribution is supplying us with clues about the formation and early evolution of the outer solar system. ii) Theoretical arguments have strongly suggested that the Kuiper Belt was initially much more massive than we see today. This result may put important constraints on the structure of the solar nebula in the outer solar system.
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