Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Dynamical studies of the Kuiper belt and the Centaurs
by Volk, Kathryn Margaret, Ph.D., The University of Arizona, 2013, 250; 3560868
Abstract (Summary)

The Kuiper belt is a population of small bodies located outside Neptune's orbit. The observed Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) can be divided into several subclasses based on their dynamical structure. I construct models for these subclasses and use numerical integrations to investigate their long-term evolution. I use these models to quantify the connection between the Kuiper belt and the Centaurs (objects whose orbits cross the orbits of the giant planets) and the short-period comets in the inner solar system. I discuss how these connections could be used to determine the physical properties of KBOs and what future observations could conclusively link the comets and Centaurs to specific Kuiper belt subclasses.

The Kuiper belt's structure is determined by a combination of long-term evolution and its formation history. The large eccentricities and inclinations of some KBOs and the prevalence of KBOs in mean motion resonances with Neptune are evidence that much of the Kuiper belt's structure originated during the solar system's epoch of giant planet migration; planet migration can sculpt the Kuiper belt's scattered disk, capture objects into mean motion resonances, and dynamically excite KBOs. Different models for planet migration predict different formation locations for the subclasses of the Kuiper belt, which might result in different size distributions and compositions between the subclasses; the high-inclination portion of the classical Kuiper belt is hypothesized to have formed closer to the Sun than the low-inclination classical Kuiper belt. I use my model of the classical Kuiper belt to show that these two populations remain largely dynamically separate over long timescales, so primordial physical differences could be maintained until the present day.

The current Kuiper belt is much less massive than the total mass required to form its largest members. It must have undergone a mass depletion event, which is likely related to planet migration. The Haumea collisional family dates from the end of this process. I apply long-term evolution to family formation models and determine how they can be observationally tested. Understanding the Haumea family's formation could shed light on the nature of the mass depletion event.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Malhotra, Renu
Commitee: Fink, Uwe, Giacalone, Joe, Greenberg, Richard, Hubbard, William
School: The University of Arizona
Department: Planetary Sciences
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-B 74/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Planetology, Astrophysics, Astronomy
Keywords: Centaurs, Comets, Dynamics, Kuiper belt, Solar system
Publication Number: 3560868
ISBN: 978-1-303-07511-7
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