THE KUIPER BELT AND ITS PRIMORDIAL SCULPTING


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Abstract

We discuss the structure of the Kuiper belt as it can be inferred from the first decade of observations. In particular, we focus on its most intriguing properties – the mass deficit, inclination distribution, the apparent existence of an outer edge and of a correlation among inclinations, colours and sizes – which clearly show that the belt has lost its pristine structure of a dynamically cold proto-planetary disk. Understanding how the Kuiper belt acquired its present structure will provide insight into the formation of the outer planetary system and on its early evolution. We outline a scenario of primordial sculpting – issued from a combination of mechanisms proposed by various authors – that seems to explain most of the observed properties of the Kuiper belt. Several aspects are not yet totally clear. But, for the first time, we have a view – if not of the detailed sculpture – at least of its rough cast.

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