We have searched the four brightest objects in the Kuiper Belt for the presence of satellites using the newly commissioned Keck Observatory Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics system. Satellites are seen around three of the four objects: Pluto (whose satellite Charon is well-known and whose recently discovered smaller satellites are too faint to be detected), 2003 EL61 (where a second satellite is seen in addition to the previously known satellite), and 2003 UB313 (where a satellite is seen for the first time). The object 2005 FY9, the brightest Kuiper Belt object (KBO) after Pluto, does not have a satellite detectable within 0″.4 with a brightness of more than 1% of the primary. The presence of satellites around three of the four brightest KBOs is inconsistent with the fraction of satellites in the Kuiper Belt at large at the 99.2% confidence level, suggesting a different formation mechanism for these largest KBO satellites. The two satellites of 2003 EL61, and the one satellite of 2003 UB313, with fractional brightnesses of 5% and 1.5%, and 2%, of their primaries, respectively, are significantly fainter relative to their primaries than other known KBO satellites, again pointing to possible differences in their origin.
- Kuiper Belt
- Online material: color figure
- Planets and satellites: general
- Techniques: high angular resolution
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science