Neptune on tiptoes: Dynamical histories that preserve the cold classical kuiper belt

Schuyler Wolff, Rebekah I. Dawson, Ruth A. Murray-Clay

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32 Scopus citations


The current dynamical structure of the Kuiper Belt was shaped by the orbital evolution of the giant planets, especially Neptune, during the era following planet formation when the giant planets may have undergone planet-planet scattering and/or planetesimal-driven migration. Numerical simulations of this process, while reproducing many properties of the Belt, fail to generate the high inclinations and eccentricities observed for some objects while maintaining the observed dynamically "cold" population. We present the first of a three-part parameter study of how different dynamical histories of Neptune sculpt the planetesimal disk. Here we identify which dynamical histories allow an in situ planetesimal disk to remain dynamically cold, becoming today's cold Kuiper Belt population. We find that if Neptune undergoes a period of elevated eccentricity and/or inclination, it secularly excites the eccentricities and inclinations of the planetesimal disk. We demonstrate that there are several well-defined regimes for this secular excitation, depending on the relative timescales of Neptune's migration, the damping of Neptune's orbital inclination and/or eccentricity, and the secular evolution of the planetesimals. We model this secular excitation analytically in each regime, allowing for a thorough exploration of parameter space. Neptune's eccentricity and inclination can remain high for a limited amount of time without disrupting the cold classical belt. In the regime of slow damping and slow migration, if Neptune is located (for example) at 20AU, then its eccentricity must stay below 0.18 and its inclination below 6°.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number171
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 20 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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