From Centaurs to comets: 40 Years

Nuno Peixinho, Audrey Thirouin, Stephen C. Tegler, Romina P. Di Sisto, Audrey Delsanti, Aurélie Guilbert-Lepoutre, James G. Bauer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


In 1977, while Apple II and Atari computers were being sold, a tiny dot was observed in an inconvenient orbit. The minor body 1977 UB, to be named (2060) Chiron, with an orbit between Saturn and Uranus, became the first Centaur, a new class of minor bodies orbiting roughly between Jupiter and Neptune. The observed overabundance of short-period comets lead to the downfall of the Oort cloud as exclusive source of comets and to the rise of the need for a Trans-Neptunian comet belt. Centaurs were rapidly seen as the transition phase between Kuiper belt objects, also known as Trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) and the Jupiter-family comets (JFCs). Since then, a lot more has been discovered about Centaurs: They can have cometary activity and outbursts, satellites, and even rings. Over the past four decades since the discovery of the first Centaur, rotation periods, surface colors, reflectivity spectra, and albedos have been measured and analyzed. However, despite such a large number of studies and complementary techniques, the Centaur population remains a mystery as they are in so many ways different from the TNOs and even more so from the JFCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Trans-Neptunian Solar System
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9780128164907
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Centaurs
  • Comets
  • Ice
  • Photometry
  • Spectroscopy
  • Thermal histories
  • Trans-Neptunian objects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • General Engineering


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