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Classical trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) are believed to represent the most dynamically pristine population in the trans-Neptunian belt (TNB) offering unprecedented clues about the formation of our Solar System. The long term dynamical evolution of classical TNOs was investigated using extensive simulations. We followed the evolution of more than 17000 particles with a wide range of initial conditions taking into account the perturbations from the four giant planets for 4 Gyr. The evolution of objects in the classical region is dependent on both their inclination and semimajor axes, with the inner (a<45 AU) and outer regions (a>45 AU) evolving differently. The reason is the influence of overlapping secular resonances with Uranus and Neptune (40–42 AU) and the 5:3 (α∼42.3 AU), 7:4 (α∼43.7 AU), 9:5 (α∼44.5 AU) and 11:6 (α∼ 45.0 AU) mean motion resonances strongly sculpting the inner region, while in the outer region only the 2:1 mean motion resonance (α∼47.7 AU) causes important perturbations. In particular, we found: (a) A substantial erosion of low-i bodies (i<10°) in the inner region caused by the secular resonances, except those objects that remained protected inside mean motion resonances which survived for billion of years; (b) An optimal stable region located at 45 AU<a<47 AU, q>40 AU and i>5° free of major perturbations; (c) Better defined boundaries for the classical region: 42–47.5 AU (q>38 AU) for cold classical TNOs and 40–47.5 AU (q>35 AU) for hot ones, with i=4.5° as the best threshold to distinguish between both populations; (d) The high inclination TNOs seen in the 40–42 AU region reflect their initial conditions. Therefore they should be classified as hot classical TNOs. Lastly, we report a good match between our results and observations, indicating that the former can provide explanations and predictions for the orbital structure in the classical region.

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