Letter

Nature 446, 294-296 (15 March 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05619; Received 25 October 2006; Accepted 19 January 2007

A collisional family of icy objects in the Kuiper belt

Michael E. Brown1, Kristina M. Barkume1, Darin Ragozzine1 & Emily L. Schaller1

  1. Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Mail Code 150-21, 1200 E. California Blvd, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

Correspondence to: Michael E. Brown1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.E.B. (Email: mbrown@caltech.edu).

The small bodies in the Solar System are thought to have been highly affected by collisions and erosion. In the asteroid belt, direct evidence of the effects of large collisions can be seen in the existence of separate families of asteroids—a family consists of many asteroids with similar orbits and, frequently, similar surface properties, with each family being the remnant of a single catastrophic impact1. In the region beyond Neptune, in contrast, no collisionally created families have hitherto been found2. The third largest known Kuiper belt object, 2003 EL61, however, is thought to have experienced a giant impact that created its multiple satellite system, stripped away much of an overlying ice mantle, and left it with a rapid rotation3, 4, 5. Here we report the discovery of a family of Kuiper belt objects with surface properties and orbits that are nearly identical to those of 2003 EL61. This family appears to be fragments of the ejected ice mantle of 2003 EL61.

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