Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) accreted from a mélange of volatile ices, carbonaceous matter, and rock of mixed interstellar and solar nebular provenance. The transneptunian region, where this accretion took place, was likely more radially compact than today. This and the influence of gas drag during the solar nebula epoch argue for more rapid KBO accretion than usually considered. Early evolution of KBOs was largely the result of heating due to radioactive decay, the most important potential source being 26Al, whereas long-term evolution of large bodies is controlled by the decay of U, Th, and 40K. Several studies are reviewed dealing with the evolution of KBO models, calculated by means of one-dimensional numerical codes that solve the heat and mass balance equations. It is shown that, depending on parameters (principally rock content and porous conductivity), KBO interiors may have reached relatively high temperatures. The models suggest that KBOs likely lost ices of very volatile species during early evolution, whereas ices of less-volatile species should be retained in cold, less-altered subsurface layers. Initially amorphous ice may have crystallized in KBO interiors, releasing volatiles trapped in the amorphous ice, and some objects may have lost part of these volatiles as well. Generally, the outer layers are far less affected by internal evolution than the inner part, which in the absence of other effects (such as collisions) predicts a stratified composition and altered porosity distribution. Kuiper belt objects are thus unlikely to be "the most pristine objects in the solar system," but they do contain key information as to how the early solar system accreted and dynamically evolved. For large (dwarf planet) KBOs, long-term radiogenic heating alone may lead to differentiated structures -- rock cores, ice mantles, volatile-ice-rich "crusts," and even oceans. Persistence of oceans and (potential) volcanism to the present day depends strongly on body size and the melting-point depression afforded by the presence of salts, ammonia, etc. (we review the case for Charon in particular). The surface color and compositional classes of KBOs are usually discussed in terms of "nature vs. nurture," i.e., a generic primordial composition vs. surface processing, but the true nature of KBOs also depends on how they have evolved. The broad range of albedos now found in the Kuiper belt, deep water-ice absorptions on some objects, evidence for differentiation of Pluto and 2003 EL61, and a range of densities incompatible with a single, primordial composition and variable porosity strongly imply significant, intrinsic compositional differences among KBOs. The interplay of formation zone (accretion rate), body size, and dynamical (collisional) history may yield KBO compositional classes (and their spectral correlates) that recall the different classes of asteroids in the inner solar system, but whose members are broadly distributed among the KBO dynamical subpopulations.
The Solar System Beyond Neptune
- Pub Date: