De-biased populations of Kuiper belt objects from the deep ecliptic survey

E. R. Adams, A. A.S. Gulbis, S. D. Benecchi, M. W. Buie, D. E. Trilling, L. H. Wasserman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


The Deep Ecliptic Survey (DES) was a survey project that discovered hundreds of Kuiper Belt objects from 1998 to 2005. Extensive follow-up observations of these bodies has yielded 304 objects with well-determined orbits and dynamical classifications into one of several categories: Classical, Scattered, Centaur, or 16 mean-motion resonances with Neptune. The DES search fields are well documented, enabling us to calculate the probability on each frame of detecting an object with its particular orbital parameters and absolute magnitude at a randomized point in its orbit. The detection probabilities range from a maximum of 0.32 for the 3:2 resonant object 2002 GF 32 to a minimum of 1.5 × 10-7 for the faint Scattered object 2001 FU 185. By grouping individual objects together by dynamical classes, we can estimate the distributions of four parameters that define each class: semimajor axis, eccentricity, inclination, and object size. The orbital element distributions (a, e, and i) were fit to the largest three classes (Classical, 3:2, and Scattered) using a maximum likelihood fit. Using the absolute magnitude (H magnitude) as a proxy for the object size, we fit a power law to the number of objects versus H magnitude for eight classes with at least five detected members (246 objects). The Classical objects are best fit with a power-law slope of α = 1.02 ± 0.01 (observed from 5 ≤ H ≤ 7.2). Six other dynamical classes (Scattered plus five resonances) have consistent magnitude distribution slopes with the Classicals, provided that the absolute number of objects is scaled. Scattered objects are somewhat more numerous than Classical objects, while there are only a quarter as many 3:2 objects as Classicals. The exception to the power law relation is the Centaurs, which are non-resonant objects with perihelia closer than Neptune and therefore brighter and detectable at smaller sizes. Centaurs were observed from 7.5 < H < 11, and that population is best fit by a power law with α = 0.42 ± 0.02. This is consistent with a knee in the H-distribution around H = 7.2 as reported elsewhere. Based on the Classical-derived magnitude distribution, the total number of objects (H ≤ 7) in each class is: Classical (2100 ± 300 objects), Scattered (2800 ± 400), 3:2 (570 ± 80), 2:1 (400 ± 50), 5:2 (270 ± 40), 7:4 (69 ± 9), 5:3 (60 ± 8). The independent estimate for the number of Centaurs in the same H range is 13 ± 5. If instead all objects are divided by inclination into "Hot" and "Cold" populations, following Fraser et al., we find that αHot = 0.90 ± 0.02, while α Cold = 1.32 ± 0.02, in good agreement with that work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number55
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014


  • Kuiper belt
  • data analysis - planets and satellites
  • formation - planets and satellites
  • general - methods
  • general - surveys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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