Earth, Moon, and Planets

, Volume 92, Issue 1, pp 1-27

First online:

The Kuiper Belt and its Primordial Sculpting

  • A. MorbidelliAffiliated withObservatoire de la Côte d'Azur
  • , M.E. BrownAffiliated withCalifornia Institute of Technology
  • , H.F. LevisonAffiliated withSWRIObservatoire de la Côte d'Azur

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We discuss the structure of the Kuiper belt as it can be inferred from the first decade of observations. In particular, we focus on its most intriguing properties – the mass deficit, inclination distribution, the apparent existence of an outer edge and of a correlation among inclinations, colours and sizes – which clearly show that the belt has lost its pristine structureof a dynamically cold proto-planetary disk. Understanding how the Kuiperbelt acquired its present structure will provide insight into the formationof the outer planetary system and on its early evolution. We outline ascenario of primordial sculpting – issued from a combination of mechanismsproposed by various authors – that seems to explain most of the observedproperties of the Kuiper belt. Several aspects are not yet totallyclear. But, for the first time, we have a view – if not of the detailedsculpture – at least of its rough cast.