Resolution of the Kuiper belt object color controversy: Two distinct color populations

Stephen C. Tegler, W. Romanishin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Four years ago, we reported that the surface colors of ancient, icy bodies at and beyond the orbit of Neptune-Kuiper belt objects-divide into two distinct color populations. Our report has proven quite controversial. Specifically, every other research group looking with large telescopes at Kuiper belt objects finds a continuous range of colors rather than two distinct populations. Here we report new color measurements of 18 objects, primarily from the Keck I 10-m telescope, that confirm the existence of two populations. We have combined the color measurements of the other groups to create a data set comparable in size to our data set. We have carried out a Monte Carlo statistical analysis and found that both data sets are consistent with two color populations and our data set, which has smaller uncertainties, rules out a continuum of colors. In addition, our new observations and those in the literature confirm our earlier report that classical KBOs with perihelion distances beyond 40 AU exhibit extremely red surface colors. Our results rule out a continuous color distribution for both our complete sample and subsamples with perihelion distances greater than or less than 40 AU. We suspect the color patterns will result in a better understanding of the formation and evolution of the outer Solar System.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-191
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003


  • Centaurs
  • Kuiper belt objects
  • Trans-Neptunian objects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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