Subaru, Keck I and II, and the IRTF at sunset, as seen from Gemini North | © Alex Parker | Astronomy Department, University of Victoria

2011 HM102: Discovery of a High-Inclination L5 Neptune Trojan in the Search for a post-Pluto New Horizons Target

ABSTRACT: We present the discovery of a long-term stable L5 (trailing) Neptune Trojan in data acquired to search for candidate Trans-Neptunian objects for the New Horizons spacecraft to fly by during an extended post-Pluto mission. This Neptune Trojan, 2011 HM102, has the highest inclination (29.4 degrees) of any known member of this population. It is intrinsically brighter than any single L5 Jupiter Trojan at H_V ~ 8.18. We have determined its gri colors (a first for any L5 Neptune Trojan), which we find to be similar to the moderately red colors of the L4 Neptune Trojans, indicating similar surface properties for members of both Trojan clouds. We also present colors derived from archival data for two L4 Neptune Trojans (2006 RJ103 and 2007 VL305), better refining the overall color distribution of the population. In this document we describe the discovery circumstances, our physical characterization of 2011 HM102, and this object's implications for the Neptune Trojan population overall. Finally, we discuss the prospects for detecting 2011 HM102 from the New Horizons spacecraft during their close approach in mid- to late-2013.

Discovery and Characterization of Trans-Neptunian Binaries in Large-Scale Surveys

ABSTRACT: The dynamically cold component of the Kuiper Belt is host to a population of very widely separated, near-equal mass binary systems. Such binaries, representing the tail of the separation distribution of the more common, more tightly-bound systems, are known to have on-sky separations up to ~4". Their wide separations make them highly valuable due to their delicacy and sensitivity to perturbation, and also makes them relatively easy targets to characterize from the ground. Parker et al. (2011) present a ground-based characterization of seven such systems with separations at discovery ranging from 0."5-4", and we will adopt these systems as the prototypes for the ultra-wide binaries of the Kuiper Belt. Here we present the prospects for using future large-scale ground-based optical surveys (with LSST as our baseline survey) to measure the orbital properties of a large sample of these widely separated Trans-Neptunian Binaries (TNBs).

Collisional Evolution of Ultra-Wide Trans-Neptunian Binaries

ABSTRACT: The widely-separated, near-equal mass binaries hosted by the cold Classical Kuiper Belt are delicately bound and subject to disruption by many perturbing processes. We use analytical arguments and numerical simulations to determine their collisional lifetimes given various impactor size distributions, and include the effects of mass-loss and multiple impacts over the lifetime of each system. These collisional lifetimes constrain the population of small (R > ~1 km) objects currently residing in the Kuiper Belt, and confirm that the size distribution slope at small size cannot be excessively steep - likely q < ~3.5. We track mutual semi-major axis, inclination, and eccentricity evolution through our simulations, and show that it is unlikely that the wide binary population represents an evolved tail of the primordially-tight binary population. We find that if the wide binaries are a collisionally-eroded population, their primordial mutual orbit planes must have preferred to lie in the plane of the solar system. Finally, we find that current limits on the size distribution at small radii remain high enough that the prospect of detecting dust-producing collisions in real-time in the Kuiper Belt with future optical surveys is feasible.

Characterization of Seven Ultra-wide Trans-Neptunian Binaries

ABSTRACT: The low-inclination component of the Classical Kuiper Belt is host to a population of extremely widely separated binaries. These systems are similar to other trans-Neptunian binaries (TNBs) in that the primary and secondary components of each system are of roughly equal size. We have performed an astrometric monitoring campaign of a sample of seven wide-separation, long-period TNBs and present the first-ever well-characterized mutual orbits for each system. The sample contains the most eccentric (2006 CH69, em = 0.9) and the most widely separated, weakly bound (2001 QW322, a/RH ~= 0.22) binary minor planets known, and also contains the system with lowest-measured mass of any TNB (2000 CF105, M sys ~= 1.85 × 1017 kg). Four systems orbit in a prograde sense, and three in a retrograde sense. They have a different mutual inclination distribution compared to all other TNBs, preferring low mutual-inclination orbits. These systems have geometric r-band albedos in the range of 0.09-0.3, consistent with radiometric albedo estimates for larger solitary low-inclination Classical Kuiper Belt objects, and we limit the plausible distribution of albedos in this region of the Kuiper Belt. We find that gravitational collapse binary formation models produce an orbital distribution similar to that currently observed, which along with a confluence of other factors supports formation of the cold Classical Kuiper Belt in situ through relatively rapid gravitational collapse rather than slow hierarchical accretion. We show that these binary systems are sensitive to disruption via collisions, and their existence suggests that the size distribution of TNOs at small sizes remains relatively shallow.

Destruction of Binary Minor Planets During Neptune Scattering

ABSTRACT: The existence of extremely wide binaries in the low-inclination component of the Kuiper Belt provides a unique handle on the dynamical history of this population. Some popular frameworks of the formation of the Kuiper Belt suggest that planetesimals were moved there from lower semi-major axis orbits by scattering encounters with Neptune. We test the effects such events would have on binary systems, and find that wide binaries are efficiently destroyed by the kinds of scattering events required to create the Kuiper Belt with this mechanism. This indicates that a binary-bearing component of the cold Kuiper Belt was emplaced through a gentler mechanism or was formed in situ.

Pencil-Beam Surveys for Trans-Neptunian Objects: Limits on Distant Populations

ABSTRACT: Two populations of minor bodies in the outer Solar System remain particularly elusive: Scattered Disk objects and Sedna-like objects. These populations are important dynamical tracers, and understanding the details of their spatial- and size-distributions will enhance our understanding of the formation and on-going evolution of the Solar System. By using newly-derived limits on the maximum heliocentric distances that recent pencil-beam surveys for Trans-Neptunian Objects were sensitive to, we determine new upper limits on the total numbers of distant SDOs and Sedna-like objects. While generally consistent with populations estimated from wide-area surveys, we show that for magnitude-distribution slopes of α > 0.7-1.0, these pencil-beam surveys provide stronger upper limits than current estimates in literature.

Pencil-Beam Surveys for Trans-Neptunian Objects: Novel Methods for Optimization and Characterization

ABSTRACT: Digital co-addition of astronomical images is a common technique for increasing signal-to-noise and image depth. A modification of this simple technique has been applied to the detection of minor bodies in the Solar System: first stationary objects are removed through the subtraction of a high-SN template image, then the sky motion of the Solar System bodies of interest is predicted and compensated for by shifting pixels in software prior to the co-addition step. This "shift-and-stack" approach has been applied with great success in directed surveys for minor Solar System bodies. In these surveys, the shifts have been parameterized in a variety of ways. However, these parameterizations have not been optimized and in most cases cannot be effectively applied to data sets with long observation arcs due to objects' real trajectories diverging from linear tracks on the sky. This paper presents two novel probabilistic approaches for determining a near-optimum set of shift-vectors to apply to any image set given a desired region of orbital space to search. The first method is designed for short observational arcs, and the second for observational arcs long enough to require non-linear shift-vectors. Using these techniques and other optimizations, we derive optimized grids for previous surveys that have used "shift-and-stack" approaches to illustrate the improvements that can be made with our method, and at the same time derive new limits on the range of orbital parameters these surveys searched. We conclude with a simulation of a future applications for this approach with LSST, and show that combining multiple nights of data from such next-generation facilities is within the realm of computational feasibility.

LSST Science Book, Version 2.0

(Alex Parker is a contributing author for sections 5.4.2 and 5.5)
ABSTRACT: A survey that can cover the sky in optical bands over wide fields to faint magnitudes with a fast cadence will enable many of the exciting science opportunities of the next decade. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will have an effective aperture of 6.7 meters and an imaging camera with field of view of 9.6 deg^2, and will be devoted to a ten-year imaging survey over 20,000 deg^2 south of +15 deg. Each pointing will be imaged 2000 times with fifteen second exposures in six broad bands from 0.35 to 1.1 microns, to a total point-source depth of r~27.5. The LSST Science Book describes the basic parameters of the LSST hardware, software, and observing plans. The book discusses educational and outreach opportunities, then goes on to describe a broad range of science that LSST will revolutionize: mapping the inner and outer Solar System, stellar populations in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies, the structure of the Milky Way disk and halo and other objects in the Local Volume, transient and variable objects both at low and high redshift, and the properties of normal and active galaxies at low and high redshift. It then turns to far-field cosmological topics, exploring properties of supernovae to z~1, strong and weak lensing, the large-scale distribution of galaxies and baryon oscillations, and how these different probes may be combined to constrain cosmological models and the physics of dark energy.

The size distributions of asteroid families in the SDSS Moving Object Catalog 4

ABSTRACT: Asteroid families, traditionally defined as clusters of objects in orbital parameter space, often have distinctive optical colors. We show that the separation of family members from background interlopers can be improved with the aid of SDSS colors as a qualifier for family membership. Based on an ~88,000 object subset of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Moving Object Catalog 4 with available proper orbital elements, we define 37 statistically robust asteroid families with at least 100 members (12 families have over 1000 members) using a simple Gaussian distribution model in both orbital and color space. The interloper rejection rate based on colors is typically ~10% for a given orbital family definition, with four families that can be reliably isolated only with the aid of colors. About 50% of all objects in this data set belong to families, and this fraction varies from about 35% for objects brighter than an H magnitude of 13 and rises to 60% for objects fainter than this. The fraction of C-type objects in families decreases with increasing H magnitude for H>13, while the fraction of S-type objects above this limit remains effectively constant. This suggests that S-type objects require a shorter timescale for equilibrating the background and family size distributions via collisional processing. The size distribution varies significantly among families, and is typically different from size distributions for background populations. The size distributions for 15 families display a well-defined change of slope and can be modeled as a "broken" double power-law. Such "broken" size distributions are twice as likely for S-type familes than for C-type families (73% vs. 36%), and are dominated by dynamically old families. The remaining families with size distributions that can be modeled as a single power law are dominated by young families (<1 Gyr). When size distribution requires a double power-law model, the two slopes are correlated and are steeper for S-type families. No such slope color correlation is discernible for families whose size distribution follows a single power law. For several very populous families, we find that the size distribution varies with the distance from the core in orbital-color space, such that small objects are more prevalent in the family outskirts. This "size sorting" is consistent with predictions based on the Yarkovsky effect

Grjota Valles and implications for flood sediment deposition on Mars

ABSTRACT: Grjota Valles is one of Mars' four Amazonian-aged, fissure-headed, catastrophic flood channels. It originates at the northwestern-most Cerberus Fossa and stretches several hundred kilometers eastward and southward. Moats around in-channel knobs and various small-scale mounds, similar to mounds seen in Athabasca Valles, are both attributed to flood-related processes. The floodwater sinks are ambiguous, and the lack of recognizable flood deposits is attributed to two causes. The first cause is the channel's high width-to-depth ratio, which may have facilitated floodwater recession during flooding. The second cause is the tendency of floodwater under lower gravity to move a higher percentage of material as washload. As flood deposits are comprised of bedload and suspended load, this tendency would result in fewer depositional bedforms. Our analysis of Grjota Valles supports the idea that formation of terrestrial-style flood deposits is energetically unlikely on Mars and that their presence indicates special paleohydraulic conditions.