Institute of Astronomy

Solar System

Of all planetary systems, our Solar System is the one we know the most about. Though the planets were discovered long ago, observations by ground and space based telescopes provide ever more detail. We now have maps of most planets and large satellites, with which to compare theories of bombardment, and geological and thermal evolution. Many new asteroids, comets, and satellites - members of the Solar System's populations of small bodies - are being discovered.

One of the most curious small body populations is the irregular satellites, objects up to a few hundred kilometers in diameter that orbit the giant planets. Their orbits are highly eccentric and inclined, and in most cases are retrograde, so orbit in the opposite direction to most satellites. In fact, their orbits are so irregular that the irregular satellites collide with each other. Work by Grant Kennedy and Mark Wyatt has shown that the dust created in these collisions may be bright enough to be detectable. Detection of such dust would provide important information about the collisional evolution, and provide a proof of concept for detection of such dust around planets that orbit other stars.

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Page last updated: 24 February 2011 at 16:03