- Centaur (minor planet)
The centaurs are an unstable orbital class of
minor planets named after the mythological race of centaurs. The name was chosen because they behave as half asteroidand half comet. Centaurs have transient orbits that cross or have crossed those of one or more of the giant planets, and have dynamical lifetimes of a few million years.cite journal
last=Horner |first= J.
coauthors=Evans, N.W.; Bailey, M. E.
title=Simulations of the Population of Centaurs I: The Bulk Statistics
The first centaur-like object to be discovered was
944 Hidalgoin 1920. However, they were not recognized as a distinct population until the discovery of 2060 Chironin 1977. The largest known centaur is 10199 Chariklo, discovered in 1997.
No centaur has yet been photographed up close, although there is evidence that
Saturn's moon Phoebe, imaged by the Cassini probe in 2004, may be a captured centaur. In addition, the Hubble Space Telescopehas gleaned some information about the surface features of 8405 Asbolus. As of 2006, three centaurs have been found to display cometary comas, Chiron, 60558 Echeclus, and 166P/NEAT 2001 T4. Chiron and Echeclus are therefore classified as both asteroids and comets. Any centaur that is perturbed close enough to the Sun is expected to become a comet.
The common definition of a Centaur is an object that orbits the Sun between
Jupiterand Neptune. They generally have a semi-major axisbetween Jupiter and Neptune, and generally cross the orbits of one or more the giant planets. Even centaurs such as 2000 GM137 and 2001 XZ255, which do not currently cross the orbit of any planet, are in unstable orbits that will be perturbed until they start to cross the orbit of one or more of the giant planets. However, different institutions have different criteria as to which borderline objects to include. The Minor Planet Center(MPC) defines centaurs as having a semi-major axis of less than 30.066 AU, the semi-major axis of Neptune. The Deep Ecliptic Survey(DES) defines centaurs using a dynamical classification scheme, based on the behavior of orbital integrations over 10 million years. The DES defines centaurs as nonresonant objects whose osculating perihelia are less than the osculating semimajor axis of Neptune at any time during the integration. This definition is intended to be synonymous with planet-crossing and to suggest dynamically short lives.cite journal
last=Elliot |first= J.L.
coauthors=Kern, Buie, Trilling; et.al.
title=The Deep Ecliptic Survey: A Search for Kuiper Belt Objects and Centaurs. II. Dynamical Classification, the Kuiper Belt Plane, and the Core Population
journal=The Astronomical Journal
volume=129 |pages=1117–1162 |year=2005
accessdate=2008-09-22 ] These differences in outer classification methods make it difficult to classify objects like mpl|(44594) 1999 OX|3, which has a semi-major axis of 32 AU but crosses the orbits of both Uranus and Neptune.
Among the inner centaurs,
2005 VD, with a perihelion distance very near Jupiter, is listed as a centaur by both JPL and DES.
The diagram at right illustrates the orbits of all known centaurs in relation to the orbits of the planets. For selected objects, the eccentricity of the orbits is represented by red segments (extending from
perihelionto aphelion). The inclination is represented on the Y axis.
Small inserts show
histograms for orbit inclinations (i), eccentricity (e) and semi-major axis (a).
To illustrate the range of the orbits' parameters, a few objects with very unusual orbits are plotted in yellow on the diagram:
*mp|1999 XS|35 (
Apollo asteroid) follows an extremely eccentric orbit (e=0.947), leading it from inside of the Earth's orbit (0.94 AU) to well beyond Neptune (>34 AU)
*mp|2005 VB|123 follows a quasi-circular orbit (e<0.01)
*mp|2001 XZ|255 has the lowest inclination (i<3°).
* Damocles is among a few centaurs on orbits with extreme inclination (prograde i>70°, e.g. mp|2007 DA|61, mp|2004 YH|32, retrograde i<120° e.g. mp|2005 JT|50; not shown)A dozen known centaurs, including Dioretsa ("asteroid" spelled backwards), follow retrograde orbits.
Because the centaurs cross the orbits of the giant planets and are not protected by
orbital resonances, their orbits are unstable within a timescale of 106 –107 years. Dynamical studies of their orbits indicate that centaurs are probably an intermediate orbital state of objects transitioning from the Kuiper Beltto the Jupiter familyof short period comets. Objects may be perturbed from the Kuiper Belt, whereupon they become Neptune-crossing and interact gravitationally with that planet (see theories of origin). They then become classed as centaurs, but their orbits are chaotic, evolving relatively rapidly as the centaur makes repeated close approaches to one or more of the outer planets. Some centaurs will evolve into Jupiter-crossing orbits whereupon their perihelia may become reduced into the inner solar system and they may be reclassified as active comets in the Jupiter family if they display cometary activity. Centaurs will thus ultimately collide with the Sun or a planet or else they may be ejected into interstellar space after a close approach to one of the planets, particularly Jupiter.
The relatively small size of centaurs precludes surface observations, but colour indices and spectra can indicate possible surface composition and can provide insight into the origin of the bodies.cite book| authorlink=David C. Jewitt| first=David C.| last= Jewitt| coauthors= A. Delsanti| chapter=The Solar System Beyond The Planets| title=Solar System Update : Topical and Timely Reviews in Solar System Sciences| publisher=Springer-Praxis Ed.| id= ISBN 3-540-26056-0| year=2006 ( [http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/faculty/jewitt/papers/2006/DJ06.pdf Preprint version (pdf)] )]
Centaurs display a puzzling diversity of colour that challenges any simple model of surface compositionM. A. Barucci, A. Doressoundiram, and D. P. Cruikshank, "Physical Characteristics of TNOs and Centaurs" (2003), available [http://www.lesia.obspm.fr/~alaind/TNO/Barucci2003_comet2.pdf on the web] (accessed 3/20/2008)] . In the diagram on the right, the colour indices are measures of
apparent magnitudeof an object through blue(B), visible (V) "i.e." green-yellow and red(R) filters. The diagram illustrates these differences (in enhanced colour) for all centaurs with known colour indices. For reference, two moons: Triton and Phoebe, and planet Marsare plotted (yellow labels, size not to scale).
Centaurs appear to be grouped into two classes:
*very red, for example
*blue (or blue-grey, according to some authors), for example
There are numerous theories to explain this colour difference, but they can be divided broadly into two categories:
*The colour difference results from a difference in the origin and/or composition of the centaur (see origin below)
*The colour difference reflects a different level of space weathering from
radiationand/or cometary activity.
As examples of the second category, the reddish colour of Pholus has been explained as a possible mantle of irradiated red organics, whereas Chiron has instead had its ice exposed due to its periodic cometary activity, giving it a blue/grey index. The correlation with activity and color is not certain, however, as the active centaurs span the range of colors from blue (Chiron) to red (166P/NEAT 2001 T4). Bauer, J. M., Fernández, Y. R., & Meech, K. J. 2003. "An Optical Survey of the Active Centaur C/NEAT (2001 T4)", Publication of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific", 115, 981 [http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/PASP/journal/issues/v115n810/203101/203101.html] ] Alternatively, Pholus may have been only recently expelled from the Kuiper Belt, so that surface transformation processes have not yet taken place.
A. Delsanti "et al" suggest multiple competing processes: reddening by the radiation, and blushing by collisions.N. Peixinho1, A. Doressoundiram1, A. Delsanti, H. Boehnhardt, M. A. Barucci, and I. Belskaya"Reopening the TNOs Color Controversy: Centaurs Bimodality andTNOs Unimodality" Astronomy and Astrophysics, 410, L29-L32 (2003). [http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0309428 Preprint on arXiv] ] Hainaut & Delsanti (2002) "Color of Minor Bodies in the Outer Solar System" Astronomy & Astrophysics, 389, 641 [http://www.sc.eso.org/~ohainaut/MBOSS datasource] ]
The interpretation of spectra is often ambiguous, related to particle sizes and other factors, but the spectra offer an insight into surface composition. As with the colours, the observed spectra can fit a number of models of the surface.
Water ice signatures have been confirmed on a number of centaurs (including
2060 Chiron, 10199 Charikloand 5145 Pholus). In addition to the water ice signature, a number of other models have been put forward:
*Chariklo's surface has been suggested to be a mixture of
tholins (like those detected on Titan and Triton) with amorphous carbon.
*Pholus has been suggested to be covered by a mixture of Titan-like
tholins, carbon black, olivine[A class of Magnesium Iron Silicates (Mg, Fe)2SiO4, common components of igneousrocks.] and methanolice.
*The surface of
52872 Okyrhoehas been suggested to be a mixture of kerogens, olivines and small percentage of water ice.
8405 Asbolushas been suggested to be a mixture of 15% Triton-like tholins, 8% Titan-like tholin, 37% amorphous carbon and 40% ice tholin.
Chiron, the only centaur with known cometary activity, appears to be the most complex. The spectra observed vary depending on the period of the observation. Water ice signature was detected during a period of low activity and disappeared during high activity. Dotto, E; Barucci, M A; De Bergh, C, "Colours and composition of the centaurs",Earth, Moon, and Planets, 92, no. 1-4, pp. 157-167. (June 2003) ] Jane X. Luu,
David Jewittand C. A. Trujillo "Water Ice on 2060 Chiron and its Implications for Centaurs and Kuiper Belt Objects", The Astrophysical Journal, 531 (2000),L151-L154. [http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0002094 Preprint on arXiv.] ] Y. R. Fernandez, D. C. Jewitt, S. S. Sheppard "Thermal Properties of Centaurs Asbolus and Chiron", The Astronomical Journal, 123 (Feb. 2002),1050–1055. [http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0111395 Preprint on arXiv.] ]
imilarities to comets
Observations of Chiron in 1988 and 1989 near its
perihelionfound it to display a coma (a cloud gas and dust evaporating from its surface). It is thus now officially classified as both a cometand an asteroid, although it is far larger than a typical comet and there is some lingering controversy. Other centaurs are being monitored for comet-like activity: so far two, 60558 Echeclus, and 166P/NEAT 2001 T4have shown such behavior. 166P/NEAT 2001 T4was discovered while it exhibited a coma, and so is classified as a comet, though its orbit is that of a centaur. 60558 Echecluswas discovered without a coma but recently became activeY-J. Choi, P.R. Weissman, and D. Polishook "(60558) 2000 EC_98", IAU Circ., 8656 (Jan. 2006), 2. ] , and so it is now accordingly also classified as both a comet and an asteroid.
Theories of origin
The study of centaur development is rich in recent developments but still hampered by limited physical data. Different models have been put forward for possible origin of centaurs.
Simulations indicate that the orbit of some Kuiper Belt objects can be perturbed, resulting in the object's expulsion so that it becomes a centaur.
Scattered diskobjects would be dynamically the best candidates [for instance, the centaurs could be part of an "inner" scattered discof objects perturbed inwards from the Kuiper belt[http://www.zanestein.com/page4_1.htm] .] for such expulsions, but their colours do not fit the bicoloured nature of the centaurs. Plutinos are a class of Kuiper Belt Object that display a similar bicoloured nature, and there are suggestions that not all plutinos' orbits are as stable as initially thought, due to perturbation by Pluto.cite journal
title=The orbit evolution of 32 plutinos over 100 million year
journal=Astronomy and Astrophysics
volume=368 | pages=700–705 | year=2001
doi=10.1051/0004-6361:20010056] Further developments are expected with more physical data on KBOs.
Well-known centaurs include:
* [http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/lists/Centaurs.html List of Centaurs and Scattered-Disk Objects]
* Centaurs from [http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/C/Centaur.html The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology Astronomy and Spaceflight]
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