, Volume 116, Issue 1-2, pp 421-439

Triton, Pluto, Centaurs, and Trans-Neptunian Bodies

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Abstract

The diverse populations of icy bodies of the outer Solar System (OSS) give critical information on the composition and structure of the solar nebula and the early phases of planet formation. The two principal repositories of icy bodies are the Kuiper belt or disk, and the Oort Cloud, both of which are the source regions of the comets. Nearly 1000 individual Kuiper belt objects have been discovered; their dynamical distribution is a clue to the early outward migration and gravitational scattering power of Neptune. Pluto is perhaps the largest Kuiper belt object. Pluto is distinguished by its large satellite, a variable atmosphere, and a surface composed of several ices and probable organic solid materials that give it color. Triton is probably a former member of the Kuiper belt population, suggested by its retrograde orbit as a satellite of Neptune. Like Pluto, Triton has a variable atmosphere, compositionally diverse icy surface, and an organic atmospheric haze. Centaur objects appear to come from the Kuiper belt and occupy temporary orbits in the planetary zone; the compositional similarity of one well studied Centaur (5145 Pholus) to comets is notable. New discoveries continue apace, as observational surveys reveal new objects and refined observing techniques yield more physical information about specific bodies.