Nature 462, 895-897 (17 December 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08608; Received 12 August 2009; Accepted 21 October 2009

A single sub-kilometre Kuiper belt object from a stellar occultation in archival data

H. E. Schlichting1,2, E. O. Ofek1, M. Wenz3, R. Sari1,4, A. Gal-Yam5, M. Livio6, E. Nelan6 & S. Zucker7

  1. Department of Astronomy, 249-17, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA
  2. CITA, University of Toronto, 60 St George Street, Ontario, M5S 3H8, Canada
  3. Goddard Space Flight Center, 8800 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA
  4. Racah Institute of Physics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem 91904, Israel
  5. Faculty of Physics, Weizmann Institute of Science, POB 26, Rehovot 76100, Israel
  6. Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA
  7. Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel

Correspondence to: H. E. Schlichting1,2E. O. Ofek1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to H.E.S. (Email: hes@astro.caltech.edu) or E.O.O. (Email: eran@astro.caltech.edu).

The Kuiper belt is a remnant of the primordial Solar System. Measurements of its size distribution constrain its accretion and collisional history, and the importance of material strength of Kuiper belt objects1, 2, 3, 4. Small, sub-kilometre-sized, Kuiper belt objects elude direct detection, but the signature of their occultations of background stars should be detectable5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Observations at both optical10 and X-ray11 wavelengths claim to have detected such occultations, but their implied abundances are inconsistent with each other and far exceed theoretical expectations. Here we report an analysis of archival data that reveals an occultation by a body with an approximately 500-metre radius at a distance of 45 astronomical units. The probability of this event arising from random statistical fluctuations within our data set is about two per cent. Our survey yields a surface density of Kuiper belt objects with radii exceeding 250 metres of Unfortunately we are unable to provide accessible alternative text for this. If you require assistance to access this image, or to obtain a text description, please contact npg@nature.com, ruling out inferred surface densities from previous claimed detections by more than 5σ. The detection of only one event reveals a deficit of sub-kilometre-sized Kuiper belt objects compared to a population extrapolated from objects with radii exceeding 50 kilometres. This implies that sub-kilometre-sized objects are undergoing collisional erosion, just like debris disks observed around other stars.


These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.


Solar system Blink from a remote world

Nature News and Views (17 Jun 2010)

Planetary science Seeing double in the Kuiper belt

Nature News and Views (12 Dec 2002)

See all 5 matches for News And Views