Author(s): Jacob Fleisig1, Ann-Marie Madigan1, Alexander Zderic1
Institution(s): 1. University of Colorado at Boulder
Our Solar System contains a large population of icy bodies stretching well beyond the orbit of Neptune. These objects, known collectively as the Scattered Disk, are remnants from the early formation of the Solar System that were scattered outward from their birth location by Neptune. But not all fit the bill.
Sedna, one particularly massive Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO), does not conform to the scattering pattern. Its orbital eccentricity (e) is much lower than expected for a scattered object. This means its perihelion distance (proportional to 1-e) is much larger than the orbit of Neptune, or that it is detached from the main Solar System. Many more TNOs share similarities with Sedna. These observations suggest that there is a large population of detached TNOs that have a dynamical history different than that of the objects scattered by Neptune.
The physical mechanism by which these massive minor planets become detached is currently unknown. However, we have discovered a phenomenon, driven by differential precession between TNOs of different masses and mutual secular gravitational torques, that naturally detach massive minor planets. This mechanism could have notable consequences for the outer Solar System and may shed some light on the origin of the detached population of minor planets near the Scattered Disk.