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Surface Properties of Kuiper Belt Objects and Centaurs


Barkume, Kristina Marie (2008) Surface Properties of Kuiper Belt Objects and Centaurs. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/EQY1-NM23.


The outer solar system is inhabited by a population of small solar system bodies called Kuiper belt Objects (KBOs) and Centaurs. I present a survey of visible and near infrared (NIR) spectra of the brightest KBOs and Centaurs. The visible spectra of 19 KBOs were obtained at Palomar Observatory. At the W.M. Keck Observatory, NIR spectra were obtained for 33 KBOs and 12 Centaurs. This data marks a significant leap in the available spectra, allowing for the population to be studied as whole.

The spectra reveal that most KBOs are covered with a material with characteristics similar to irradiate ices rich in complex organic compounds. Water ice is also observed on some KBOs and Centaurs, though its abundance is variable across the samples. A two end member mixing model is found to describe the NIR spectral properties well, but poorly fits the visible-NIR data. This suggests that the non-water ice component is heterogeneous across the KBO and Centuar populations. To characterize the non-ice component better, the visible spectra are analyzed for signatures of both organic and mineralogical features. No evidence is found for the presence of minerals, but the spectra suggest complex organics are a dominant spectral component. The abundance of water is shown to directly correlate with diameter for KBOs, but not Centaurs, suggesting it is controlled by geophysical processes on KBOs.

The analysis of these spectra has revealed an unusual population of KBOs that are now identified as mantle fragments from the large KBO 2003 EL61. The collision that spun-up 2003 EL61, formed its satellite system, and ejected the mantle fragments into the Kuiper belt is discussed. The unusual spectral properties of 2003 EL61, its brightest satellite, and the fragments are examined. Analysis suggests that the surfaces of all these objects can be composed of nearly pure water ice, suggesting that their volatile organic inventory has been lost. The discovery of crystalline water ice on these small KBOs suggests that crystallization is not an indication of recent surface activity as was previously suggested.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Centaurs; Kuiper Belt Objects; Small Solar System Bodies
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Planetary Sciences
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Brown, Michael E.
Group:Astronomy Department
Thesis Committee:
  • Blake, Geoffrey A. (chair)
  • Ingersoll, Andrew P.
  • Stevenson, David John
  • Brown, Michael E.
  • Aharonson, Oded
Defense Date:17 December 2007
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-05132008-202158
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:1783
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:20 May 2008
Last Modified:04 Mar 2020 21:56

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