A Solution for the Density Dichotomy Problem of Kuiper Belt Objects with Multispecies Streaming Instability and Pebble Accretion

Manuel H. Cañas, Wladimir Lyra, Daniel Carrera, Leonardo Krapp, Debanjan Sengupta, Jacob B. Simon, Orkan M. Umurhan, Chao Chin Yang, Andrew N. Youdin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) show an unexpected trend, whereby large bodies have increasingly higher densities, up to five times greater than their smaller counterparts. Current explanations for this trend assume formation at constant composition, with the increasing density resulting from gravitational compaction. However, this scenario poses a timing problem to avoid early melting by decay of 26Al. We aim to explain the density trend in the context of streaming instability and pebble accretion. Small pebbles experience lofting into the atmosphere of the disk, being exposed to UV and partially losing their ice via desorption. Conversely, larger pebbles are shielded and remain icier. We use a shearing box model including gas and solids, the latter split into ices and silicate pebbles. Self-gravity is included, allowing dense clumps to collapse into planetesimals. We find that the streaming instability leads to the formation of mostly icy planetesimals, albeit with an unexpected trend that the lighter ones are more silicate-rich than the heavier ones. We feed the resulting planetesimals into a pebble accretion integrator with a continuous size distribution, finding that they undergo drastic changes in composition as they preferentially accrete silicate pebbles. The density and masses of large KBOs are best reproduced if they form between 15 and 22 au. Our solution avoids the timing problem because the first planetesimals are primarily icy and 26Al is mostly incorporated in the slow phase of silicate pebble accretion. Our results lend further credibility to the streaming instability and pebble accretion as formation and growth mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number55
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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