The origin of Pluto's orbit: Implications for the solar system beyond Neptune

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The origin of the highly eccentric, inclined, and resonance-locked orbit of Pluto has long been a puzzle. A possible explanation has been proposed recently [Malhotra, 1993, Nature, 365, 819] which suggests that these extraordinary orbital properties may be a natural consequence of the formation and early dynamical evolution of the outer solar system. A resonance capture mechanism is possible during the clearing of the residual planetesimal debris and the formation of the Oort Cloud of comets by planetesimal mass loss from the vicinity of the giant planets. If this mechanism were in operation during the early history of the planetary system, the entire region between the orbit of Neptune and approximately 50 AU would have been swept by first-order mean motion resonances. Thus, resonance capture could occur not only for Pluto, but quite generally for other trans-Neptunian small bodies. Some consequences of this evolution for the present-day dynamical structure of the trans-Neptunian region are (i) most of the objects in the region beyond Neptune and up to ∼50 AU exist in very narrow zones located at orbital resonances with Neptune (particularly the 3:2 and the 2:1 resonances); and (ii) these resonant objects would have significantly large eccentricities. The distribution of objects in the Kuiper Belt as predicted by this theory is presented here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)420-429
Number of pages10
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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