A Measurement of the Kuiper Belt’s Mean Plane From Objects Classified By Machine Learning

Ian Matheson, Renu Malhotra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Mean plane measurements of the Kuiper Belt from observational data are of interest for their potential to test dynamical models of the solar system. Recent measurements have yielded inconsistent results. Here we report a measurement of the Kuiper Belt’s mean plane with a sample size more than twice as large as in previous measurements. The sample of interest is the nonresonant Kuiper Belt objects, which we identify by using machine learning on the observed Kuiper Belt population whose orbits are well determined. We estimate the measurement error with a Monte Carlo procedure. We find that the overall mean plane of the nonresonant Kuiper Belt (semimajor axis range of 35-150 au) and also that of the classical Kuiper Belt (semimajor axis range of 42-48 au) are both close to (within ∼0.°7) but distinguishable from the invariable plane of the solar system to greater than 99.7% confidence. When binning the sample into smaller semimajor axis bins, we find the measured mean plane is mostly consistent with both the invariable plane and the theoretically expected Laplace surface forced by the known planets. Statistically significant discrepancies are found only in the semimajor axis ranges 40.3-42 au and 45-50 au; these ranges are in proximity to the ν 8 secular resonance and Neptune’s 2:1 mean motion resonance where the theory for the Laplace surface is likely to be inaccurate. These results do not support a previously reported anomalous warp at semimajor axes above 50 au.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number241
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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