Abstract

The Kuiper belt is a collection of small bodies (Kuiper belt objects, KBOs) that lie beyond the orbit of Neptune and which are believed to have formed contemporaneously with the planets. Their small size and great distance make them difficult to study. KBO 55636 (2002 TX300) is a member of the water-ice-rich Haumea KBO collisional family1. The Haumea family are among the most highly reflective objects in the Solar System. Dynamical calculations indicate that the collision that created KBO 55636 occurred at least 1 Gyr ago2,3. Here we report observations of a multi-chord stellar occultation by KBO 55636, which occurred on 9 October 2009 ut. We find that it has a mean radius of 143 ± 5 km (assuming a circular solution). Allowing for possible elliptical shapes, we find a geometric albedo of in the V photometric band, which establishes that KBO 55636 is smaller than previously thought and that, like its parent body, it is highly reflective. The dynamical age implies either that KBO 55636 has an active resurfacing mechanism, or that fresh water-ice in the outer Solar System can persist for gigayear timescales.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    , , & A collisional family of icy objects in the Kuiper belt. Nature 446, 294–296 (2007)

  2. 2.

    & Candidate members and age estimate of the family of Kuiper belt object 2003 EL61. Astron. J. 134, 2160–2167 (2007)

  3. 3.

    & The creation of Haumea's collisional family. Astrophys. J. 700, 1242–1246 (2009)

  4. 4.

    & Pluto's atmosphere and a targeted-occultation search for other bound KBO atmospheres. Earth Moon Planets 92, 375–393 (2003)

  5. 5.

    , , & Occultation by a possible third satellite of Neptune. Science 215, 289–291 (1982)

  6. 6.

    , , & 55636.20091009 Occultation October 09, 2009. 〈〉 (2009)

  7. 7.

    & Photoelectric measurement of lunar occultations. I. The process. Astron. J. 75, 575–582 (1970)

  8. 8.

    et al. High albedos of low inclination classical Kuiper belt objects. Icarus 201, 284–294 (2009)

  9. 9.

    et al. in Asteroids II (eds Binzel, R. P., Gehrels, T. & Matthews, M. S.) 524–556 (Univ. Arizona Press, 1989)

  10. 10.

    & Hawaii Kuiper belt variability project: an update. Earth Moon Planets 92, 207–219 (2003)

  11. 11.

    , & Diverse albedos of small trans-neptunian objects. Icarus 176, 184–191 (2005)

  12. 12.

    et al. in The Solar System beyond Neptune (eds Barucci, M. A., Boehnhardt, H., Cruikshank, D. P. & Morbidelli, A.) 161–179 (Univ. Arizona Press, 2008)

  13. 13.

    et al. The methane ice rich surface of large TNO 2005 FY9: a Pluto-twin in the trans-neptunian belt? Astron. Astrophys. 445, L35–L38 (2006)

  14. 14.

    , , & Characteristics of candidate members of (136108) Haumea's family. Astron. Astrophys. 511, 1–9 (2010)

  15. 15.

    Color diversity among Kuiper belt objects: the collisional resurfacing model revisited. Planet. Space Sci. 50, 57–62 (2002)

  16. 16.

    & Color diversity among the Centaurs and Kuiper Belt objects. Astron. J. 112, 2310–2318 (1996)

  17. 17.

    , & The opposition surge of Enceladus: HST observations 338–1022 nm. Icarus 173, 66–83 (2005)

  18. 18.

    et al. in Saturn from Cassini-Huygens (eds Dougherty, M., Esposito, L. W. & Krimigis, S.) 683–724 (Springer, 2009)

  19. 19.

    , , & The youthful appearance of the 2003 EL61 collisional family. Astron. J. 136, 1502–1509 (2008)

  20. 20.

    Ice Physics 1st edn 348 (Oxford Univ. Press, 1974)

  21. 21.

    , & Systematic biases in radiometric diameter determinations. Icarus 78, 337–354 (1989)

  22. 22.

    in The Solar System beyond Neptune (eds Barucci, M. A., Boehnhardt, H., Cruikshank, D. P. & Morbidelli, A.) 335–344 (Univ. Arizona Press, 2008)

  23. 23.

    et al. Charon's radius and atmospheric constraints from observations of a stellar occultation. Nature 439, 48–51 (2006)

  24. 24.

    & Diffraction calculation of occultation light curves in the presence of an isothermal atmosphere. Astron. J. 81, 445–451 (1976)

  25. 25.

    et al. Photometric observations constraining the size, shape, and albedo of 2003 EL61, a rapidly rotating, Pluto-sized object in the Kuiper Belt. Astrophys. J. 639, 1238–1251 (2006)

  26. 26.

    et al. Satellites of the largest Kuiper belt objects. Astrophys. J. 639, L43–L46 (2006)

  27. 27.

    & Orbits and masses of the satellites of the dwarf planet Haumea (2003 EL61). Astron. J. 137, 4766–4776 (2009)

  28. 28.

    & NICMOS photometry of the unusual dwarf planet Haumea and its satellites. Astrophys. J. 695, L1–L3 (2009)

  29. 29.

    & Detection of additional members of the 2003 EL61 collisional family via near-infrared spectroscopy. Astrophys. J. 684, L107–L109 (2008)

  30. 30.

    Astrodon:. Astrodon astronomy filters. 〈〉 (2008)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to W. M. Grundy for supplying HV magnitudes from his database and for discussions of water-ice surfaces in the outer Solar System; to W. B. McKinnon for discussions of the physical state of water-ice at low temperatures; to E. D. Schmidt for use of the telescope and participating in the observations at Behlen Observatory; to B. Carter for help in obtaining telescope time at Mt Kent, and to L. A. Young for assisting with the McDonald observations. We thank D. Byrne of the Visitor Information Station at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy on Mauna Kea for use of their equipment and facilitating the observations from their site. J.W. thanks E. Gates of Lick Observatory, and E. Becklin, E. Pfueller, M. Wiedemann and M. Burgdort of SOFIA, for support of his observations. B. Sicardy provided several comments that improved the paper. Occultation research at MIT and Williams College is supported by NASA and NSF.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • J. L. Elliot
    • , M. J. Person
    • , C. A. Zuluaga
    • , A. S. Bosh
    • , E. R. Adams
    • , T. C. Brothers
    • , A. A. S. Gulbis
    • , S. E. Levine
    • , M. Lockhart
    •  & A. M. Zangari
  2. Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • J. L. Elliot
  3. Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, USA

    • J. L. Elliot
    • , L. Bright
    •  & E. W. Dunham
  4. Southern Africa Large Telescope and South African Astronomical Observatory, PO Box 9, 8935, Cape Town, South Africa

    • A. A. S. Gulbis
  5. United States Naval Observatory (USNO), Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, USA

    • S. E. Levine
    •  & T. Tilleman
  6. American Association of Variable Star Observers, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • S. E. Levine
  7. Physics Department, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267, USA

    • B. A. Babcock
  8. Astronomy Department, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267, USA

    • K. DuPré
    • , J. M. Pasachoff
    •  & S. P. Souza
  9. Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Santa Barbara, California 93117, USA

    • W. Rosing
  10. University of Hawai’i, Hilo, Hawai’i 96720-4091, USA

    • N. Secrest
  11. Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington DC 20015, USA

    • S. S. Sheppard
  12. Department of Geology, University of Hawai’i, Leeward Community College, Pearl City, Hawai’i 96782, USA

    • M. Kakkala
  13. Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston, Westford, Massachusetts 01886, USA

    • B. Berger
    • , J. W. Briggs
    • , G. Jacobson
    • , P. Valleli
    •  & B. Volz
  14. Dexter-Southfield Schools, Brookline, Massachusetts 02145, USA

    • J. W. Briggs
  15. Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Mt Stromlo Observatory, Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory 2611, Australia

    • S. Rapoport
  16. Mt Kent Observatory, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Queensland 4350, Australia

    • R. Hart
  17. Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska 68588, USA

    • M. Brucker
  18. Instituto de Astronomía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Apartado Postal 877, 22800 Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

    • R. Michel
  19. IBM, St Leonards, New South Wales 2065, Australia

    • A. Mattingly
  20. Nompuewenu Observatory, University of Texas Brownsville/Texas Southmost College, Brownsville, Texas 78520, USA

    • L. Zambrano-Marin
  21. SOFIA, Universities Space Research Association, NASA Ames, Moffett Field, California 94035, USA

    • A. W. Meyer
  22. SOFIA, Deutsches SOFIA Institute, NASA Ames, Moffett Field, California 94035, USA

    • J. Wolf
  23. Magdalena Ridge Observatory, New Mexico Tech, Socorro, New Mexico 87801, USA

    • E. V. Ryan
    •  & W. H. Ryan
  24. Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA

    • K. Morzinski
    •  & B. Grigsby
  25. James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 4870, Australia

    • J. Brimacombe
  26. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • D. Ragozzine
  27. Observatorio Astronómico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua, Managua, Nicaragua

    • H. G. Montano
  28. Mt John University Observatory, Lake Tekapo 7945, New Zealand

    • A. Gilmore

Authors

  1. Search for J. L. Elliot in:

  2. Search for M. J. Person in:

  3. Search for C. A. Zuluaga in:

  4. Search for A. S. Bosh in:

  5. Search for E. R. Adams in:

  6. Search for T. C. Brothers in:

  7. Search for A. A. S. Gulbis in:

  8. Search for S. E. Levine in:

  9. Search for M. Lockhart in:

  10. Search for A. M. Zangari in:

  11. Search for B. A. Babcock in:

  12. Search for K. DuPré in:

  13. Search for J. M. Pasachoff in:

  14. Search for S. P. Souza in:

  15. Search for W. Rosing in:

  16. Search for N. Secrest in:

  17. Search for L. Bright in:

  18. Search for E. W. Dunham in:

  19. Search for S. S. Sheppard in:

  20. Search for M. Kakkala in:

  21. Search for T. Tilleman in:

  22. Search for B. Berger in:

  23. Search for J. W. Briggs in:

  24. Search for G. Jacobson in:

  25. Search for P. Valleli in:

  26. Search for B. Volz in:

  27. Search for S. Rapoport in:

  28. Search for R. Hart in:

  29. Search for M. Brucker in:

  30. Search for R. Michel in:

  31. Search for A. Mattingly in:

  32. Search for L. Zambrano-Marin in:

  33. Search for A. W. Meyer in:

  34. Search for J. Wolf in:

  35. Search for E. V. Ryan in:

  36. Search for W. H. Ryan in:

  37. Search for K. Morzinski in:

  38. Search for B. Grigsby in:

  39. Search for J. Brimacombe in:

  40. Search for D. Ragozzine in:

  41. Search for H. G. Montano in:

  42. Search for A. Gilmore in:

Contributions

J.L.E. helped plan the observations, consulted on the occultation prediction, analysed the data, and wrote the paper. M.J.P. organized the observers, performed observations from Brownsville, Texas, and consulted on the prediction, data reduction, text and figures. C.A.Z. analysed the data for the stellar occultation prediction and constructed the light curves. A.S.B. directed the data analysis for the occultation prediction. E.R.A. wrote the light-curve generation software. S.E.L. made astrometric observations and performed observations of the occultation from the USNO in Flagstaff. M.L. designed and built 12 PICO camera systems and attempted observations from Cairns. J.M.P. arranged for observations at several sites and helped to plan the observations. S.P.S. consulted on the design of the PICO. L.B., E.W.D., S.S.S. and T.T. supplied astrometric data for the occultation prediction. D.R. provided information used to derive the geometric albedo of KBO 55636. Authors identified in Supplementary Table 2 were responsible for the observations. All authors were given the opportunity to review the results and comment on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. L. Elliot.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Information and Data, Supplementary Tables 1-5, Supplementary Figures 1-3 with legends and References.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09109

Further reading

  • 1.

    A ring system detected around the Centaur (10199) Chariklo

    • F. Braga-Ribas
    • , B. Sicardy
    • , J. L. Ortiz
    • , C. Snodgrass
    • , F. Roques
    • , R. Vieira-Martins
    • , J. I. B. Camargo
    • , M. Assafin
    • , R. Duffard
    • , E. Jehin
    • , J. Pollock
    • , R. Leiva
    • , M. Emilio
    • , D. I. Machado
    • , C. Colazo
    • , E. Lellouch
    • , J. Skottfelt
    • , M. Gillon
    • , N. Ligier
    • , L. Maquet
    • , G. Benedetti-Rossi
    • , A. Ramos Gomes
    • , P. Kervella
    • , H. Monteiro
    • , R. Sfair
    • , M. El Moutamid
    • , G. Tancredi
    • , J. Spagnotto
    • , A. Maury
    • , N. Morales
    • , R. Gil-Hutton
    • , S. Roland
    • , A. Ceretta
    • , S.-h. Gu
    • , X.-b. Wang
    • , K. Harpsøe
    • , M. Rabus
    • , J. Manfroid
    • , C. Opitom
    • , L. Vanzi
    • , L. Mehret
    • , L. Lorenzini
    • , E. M. Schneiter
    • , R. Melia
    • , J. Lecacheux
    • , F. Colas
    • , F. Vachier
    • , T. Widemann
    • , L. Almenares
    • , R. G. Sandness
    • , F. Char
    • , V. Perez
    • , P. Lemos
    • , N. Martinez
    • , U. G. Jørgensen
    • , M. Dominik
    • , F. Roig
    • , D. E. Reichart
    • , A. P. LaCluyze
    • , J. B. Haislip
    • , K. M. Ivarsen
    • , J. P. Moore
    • , N. R. Frank
    •  & D. G. Lambas

    Nature (2014)

  • 2.

    Albedo and atmospheric constraints of dwarf planet Makemake from a stellar occultation

    • J. L. Ortiz
    • , B. Sicardy
    • , F. Braga-Ribas
    • , A. Alvarez-Candal
    • , E. Lellouch
    • , R. Duffard
    • , N. Pinilla-Alonso
    • , V. D. Ivanov
    • , S. P. Littlefair
    • , J. I. B. Camargo
    • , M. Assafin
    • , E. Unda-Sanzana
    • , E. Jehin
    • , N. Morales
    • , G. Tancredi
    • , R. Gil-Hutton
    • , I. de la Cueva
    • , J. P. Colque
    • , D. N. Da Silva Neto
    • , J. Manfroid
    • , A. Thirouin
    • , P. J. Gutiérrez
    • , J. Lecacheux
    • , M. Gillon
    • , A. Maury
    • , F. Colas
    • , J. Licandro
    • , T. Mueller
    • , C. Jacques
    • , D. Weaver
    • , A. Milone
    • , R. Salvo
    • , S. Bruzzone
    • , F. Organero
    • , R. Behrend
    • , S. Roland
    • , R. Vieira-Martins
    • , T. Widemann
    • , F. Roques
    • , P. Santos-Sanz
    • , D. Hestroffer
    • , V. S. Dhillon
    • , T. R. Marsh
    • , C. Harlingten
    • , A. Campo Bagatin
    • , M. L. Alonso
    • , M. Ortiz
    • , C. Colazo
    • , H. J. F. Lima
    • , A. S. Oliveira
    • , L. O. Kerber
    • , R. Smiljanic
    • , E. Pimentel
    • , B. Giacchini
    • , P. Cacella
    •  & M. Emilio

    Nature (2012)

  • 3.

    Eris under scrutiny

    • Amanda Gulbis

    Nature (2011)

  • 4.

    A Pluto-like radius and a high albedo for the dwarf planet Eris from an occultation

    • B. Sicardy
    • , J. L. Ortiz
    • , M. Assafin
    • , E. Jehin
    • , A. Maury
    • , E. Lellouch
    • , R. Gil Hutton
    • , F. Braga-Ribas
    • , F. Colas
    • , D. Hestroffer
    • , J. Lecacheux
    • , F. Roques
    • , P. Santos-Sanz
    • , T. Widemann
    • , N. Morales
    • , R. Duffard
    • , A. Thirouin
    • , A. J. Castro-Tirado
    • , M. Jelínek
    • , P. Kubánek
    • , A. Sota
    • , R. Sánchez-Ramírez
    • , A. H. Andrei
    • , J. I. B. Camargo
    • , D. N. da Silva Neto
    • , A. Ramos Gomes
    • , R. Vieira Martins
    • , M. Gillon
    • , J. Manfroid
    • , G. P. Tozzi
    • , C. Harlingten
    • , S. Saravia
    • , R. Behrend
    • , S. Mottola
    • , E. García Melendo
    • , V. Peris
    • , J. Fabregat
    • , J. M. Madiedo
    • , L. Cuesta
    • , M. T. Eibe
    • , A. Ullán
    • , F. Organero
    • , S. Pastor
    • , J. A. de los Reyes
    • , S. Pedraz
    • , A. Castro
    • , I. de la Cueva
    • , G. Muler
    • , I. A. Steele
    • , M. Cebrián
    • , P. Montañés-Rodríguez
    • , A. Oscoz
    • , D. Weaver
    • , C. Jacques
    • , W. J. B. Corradi
    • , F. P. Santos
    • , W. Reis
    • , A. Milone
    • , M. Emilio
    • , L. Gutiérrez
    • , R. Vázquez
    •  & H. Hernández-Toledo

    Nature (2011)

  • 5.

    Blink from a remote world

    • Bruno Sicardy

    Nature (2010)

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.