The Formation of the Haumea Collisional Family
Zoe Leinhardt (Cambridge)
Monday 3rd May 2010, 12:00pm
Pratt conference room, 60 Garden Street
Haumea, a rapidly rotating elongated dwarf planet (~1500 km in diameter), has two satellites and is associated with a "family" of several smaller Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) in similar orbits. All members of the Haumea system share a water ice spectral feature that is distinct from all other KBOs. The relative velocities between the Haumea family members are too small to have formed by catastrophic disruption of a large precursor body, which is the process that formed families around much smaller asteroids in the main belt. Here, we show that all of the unusual characteristics of the Haumea system are explained by a novel type of giant collision: a graze and merge impact between two comparably sized bodies. The grazing encounter imparted the high angular momentum that spun off fragments from the icy crust of the elongated merged body. The fragments became satellites and family members. Giant collision outcomes are extremely sensitive to the impact parameters. Compared to the main belt, the largest bodies in the Kuiper Belt are more massive and experience slower velocity collisions; hence, outcomes of giant collisions are dramatically different between the inner and outer solar system. The dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt record an unexpectedly large number of giant collisions, requiring a special dynamical event at the end of solar system formation.