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2060 Chiron

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2060 Chiron

2060 Chiron
Discovered by Charles T. Kowal
Discovery date October 18, 1977
MPC designation 2060 Chiron
Named after
1977 UB
Minor planet category Centaur,[1][2] comet
Adjectives Chironean, Chironian
Orbital characteristics[3]
Epoch June 18, 2009 (JD 2455000.5)
Aphelion 18.891 AU (Q)
2,826 Gm
Perihelion 8.5114 AU (q)
1,273 Gm
13.708 AU (2,050.7 Gm) (a)
Eccentricity 0.37911
50.76 a (18,539 d)
Average orbital speed
7.75 km/s
94.716° (M)
Inclination 6.9311°
Physical characteristics

233 ± 14 km[4]

132–152 km[5]
5.918 h (0.2466 d)[3]

0.075 ± 0.01[4]

0.11 ± 0.02 [5]
Temperature ~75 K
Spectral type
15.6 (Perihelic opposition)
0.035" (max)[7]

2060 Chiron is a minor planet in the outer Solar System. Discovered in 1977 by Charles T. Kowal (precovery images have been found as far back as 1895),[8] it was the first-known member of a new class of objects now known as centaurs, with an orbit between Saturn and Uranus.

Although it was initially called an asteroid and classified as a minor planet, it was later found to exhibit behavior typical of a comet. Today it is classified as both, and accordingly it is also known by the cometary designation 95P/Chiron.

Chiron is named after the centaur Chiron in Greek mythology. It should not be confused with the Plutonian moon Charon, discovered the following year, in 1978.

Mike Brown lists it as a possible dwarf planet with a measured diameter of 233 km.[9]

Discovery and naming

Chiron was discovered on 18 October 1977 by Charles Kowal from images taken two weeks earlier at Palomar Observatory.[10] It was given the temporary designation of 1977 UB.[11] It was found near aphelion[10] and at the time of discovery it was the most distant known minor planet.[11] Chiron was even claimed as the tenth planet by the press.[12] Chiron was later found on several precovery images, going back to 1895, which allowed its orbit to be accurately determined.[10] It had been at perihelion in 1945 but was not discovered then because there were few searches being made at that time, and these were not sensitive to slow-moving objects.[10] The Lowell Observatory's survey for distant planets would not have gone down faint enough in the 1930s and did not cover the right region of the sky in the 1940s.[10]

It was named 2060 Chiron in 1979[11] after Chiron, one of the centaurs; it was suggested that the names of other centaurs be reserved for objects of the same type.[10]

Physical characteristics

The visible and near-infrared spectrum of Chiron is neutral,[11] and is similar to that of C-type asteroids and the nucleus of Halley's Comet.[13]

Size estimates for Chiron:[5]
Year Radius (km) Notes
1984 90 Lebofsky
1991 <186 IRAS
1994 74 Campins
1996 90 occultation
2007 117[4] Spitzer Space Telescope
2013 109[14] Herschel Space Observatory
111 Average of measurements

The assumed size of an object depends on its absolute magnitude (H) and the albedo (the amount of light it reflects). In 1984 Lebofsky estimated Chiron to be about 180 km in diameter.[5] Estimates in the 1990s were closer to 150 km in diameter.[3][5] Occultation data from 1993 suggests a diameter of about 180 km.[5] The data from the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2007 suggests that Chiron is closer to 233 ± 14 km in diameter.[4] Therefore Chiron may be as large as 10199 Chariklo.[4]

Its rotational period is 5.917813 hours, a value determined by observing its distinct light curve.[11]

Cometary behavior

In February 1988, at 12 AU from the Sun, Chiron brightened by 75 percent.[15] This is behavior typical of comets but not asteroids. Further observations in April 1989 showed that Chiron had developed a cometary coma,[16] A tail was detected in 1993.[11] Chiron differs from other comets in that water is not a major component of its coma, because it is too far from the Sun for water to sublimate.[17]

At the time of its discovery, Chiron was close to aphelion, whereas the observations showing a coma were done closer to perihelion, perhaps explaining why no cometary behavior had been seen earlier. The fact that Chiron is still active probably means it has not been in its current orbit very long.[8]

Chiron is officially designated as both a comet and a minor planet, an indication of the sometimes fuzzy dividing line between the two classes of object. The term proto-comet has also been used. Being at least 130 km in diameter, it is unusually large for a comet nucleus.

Since the discovery of Chiron, other centaurs have been discovered, and nearly all are currently classified as minor planets, but are being observed for possible cometary behavior. 60558 Echeclus has displayed a cometary coma and now also has the cometary designation 174P/Echeclus. After passing perihelion in early 2008, 52872 Okyrhoe significantly brightened.[18]

Chiron is a Chiron-type comet with (TJupiter > 3; a > aJupiter).[3] Other Chiron-type comets include: 39P/Oterma, 165P/LINEAR, 166P/NEAT, and 167P/CINEOS. There are also non-centaurs that are classified as comets, such as 4015 Wilson–Harrington, 7968 Elst–Pizarro, and 118401 LINEAR.[19]


Chiron's orbit was found to be highly eccentric (0.37), with perihelion just inside the orbit of Saturn and aphelion just outside the perihelion of Uranus (it does not reach the average distance of Uranus, however). According to the program Solex, Chiron's closest approach to Saturn in modern times was in May 720, at just under 30 million kilometres. During this passage Saturn's gravity caused Chiron's semi-major axis to decrease from 14.4AU[20] to 13.7AU.[3] It does not come nearly as close to Uranus; Chiron crosses Uranus' orbit where the latter is farther than average from the Sun. It attracted considerable interest because it was the first object discovered in such an orbit, well outside the asteroid belt. Chiron is classified as a centaur, the first of a class of objects orbiting between the outer planets. Chiron is an SU object since its perihelion lies within Saturn's zone of control and its aphelion lies within Uranus' zone of control.[21] Centaurs are not in stable orbits and over millions of years will eventually be removed by gravitational perturbation by the giant planets, moving to different orbits or leaving the Solar System altogether.[22] Chiron is probably a refugee from the Kuiper belt and will probably become a short-period comet in about a million years.[21]

Chiron came to perihelion (closest point to the Sun) in 1996.[3]


The orbit of 2060 Chiron compared with the orbits of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Chaotic Motion

The chaotic unstable motion of Chiron as simulated by Gravity Simulator. It is possible that Chiron will evolve into a 2:1 near resonance with Saturn over the next 10,000+ years.


  1. ^  
  2. ^ "List Of Centaurs and Scattered-Disk Objects". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: 2060 Chiron (1977 UB)". 2008-11-28 last obs. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  4. ^ a b c d e John Stansberry, Will Grundy, Mike Brown, Dale Cruikshank, John Spencer, David Trilling, Jean-Luc Margot (2007). "Physical Properties of Kuiper Belt and Centaur Objects: Constraints from Spitzer Space Telescope". arXiv:astro-ph/0702538 [astro-ph].
  5. ^ a b c d e f Groussin (2004). "Properties of the nuclei of Centaurs Chiron and Chariklo". Astronomy and Astrophysics 413: 1163–1175.  
  6. ^ "AstDys (2060) Chiron Ephemerides". Department of Mathematics, University of Pisa, Italy. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  7. ^ Meech, Karen (19 February 1994). "The Structure of the Inner Coma of Comet Chiron: Imaging The Exopause". Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii. Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  8. ^ a b Grayzeck, Ed (2003-12-11). "The Chiron Perihelion Campaign". NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Archived from the original on 11 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-18. 
  9. ^  
  10. ^ a b c d e f  
  11. ^ a b c d e f Campins, H.; Telesco, C. M.; Osip, D. J.; Rieke, G. H.; Rieke, M. J.; Schulz, B. (December 1994). "The Color Temperature of (2060) Chiron: A Warm and Small Nucleus".  
  12. ^ Collander-Brown, S.; Maran, M.; Williams, I.P. (2000). "The effect on the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt of a large distant tenth planet".  
  13. ^ Luu, J.X.; Jewitt, D.C. (September 1990). "Cometary activity in 2060 Chiron".  
  14. ^ S. Fornasier, E. Lellouch, T. Müller, P. Santos-Sanz, P. Panuzzo, C. Kiss, T. Lim, M. Mommert, D. Bockelée-Morvan, E. Vilenius, J. Stansberry, G.P. Tozzi, S. Mottola, A. Delsanti, J. Crovisier, R. Duffard, F. Henry, P. Lacerda, A. Barucci, & A. Gicquel (2013). m.µTNOs are Cool: A survey of the trans-Neptunian region. VIII. Combined Herschel PACS and SPIRE observations of 9 bright targets at 70–500
  15. ^ Hartmann, William K.; Tholen, D.J.; Meech, K.J.; Cruikshank, D.P. (January 1990). "2060 Chiron - Colorimetry and cometary behavior".  
  16. ^ Meech, Karen J.; Belton, M.J.S (April 1989). "(2060) Chiron".  
  17. ^ Meech, Karen J.; Belton, M.J.S (October 1990). "The Atmosphere of 2060 Chiron".  
  18. ^ Trigo-Rodríguez, Melendo, García-Hernández, Davidsson, Sánchez (2008). "A continuous follow-up of Centaurs, and dormant comets: looking for cometary activity." (PDF). European Planetary Science Congress. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 
  19. ^ Dual-Status Objects
  20. ^ "Chiron's Osculating Elements 700AD generated with Solex 10". Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  21. ^ a b Horner, J.; Evans, N.W.; Bailey, M. E. (2004). "Simulations of the Population of Centaurs II: Individual Objects". arXiv:astro-ph/0408576.
  22. ^   (Preprint version (pdf))

External links

  • Discovery · Orbit diagram · Orbital elements · Physical parameters
  • 95P/Chiron at Cometography
  • A single clone run of centaur 2060 Chiron showing how Chiron may someday become an active comet (Solex 10)
Periodic comets (by number)
95P/Chiron Next
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