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Deep Ecliptic Survey

Robert L. Millis (Lowell)
M. Buie (Lowell)
E. Chiang (IAS)
J. Elliot (MIT)
S. Kern (MIT)
D. Trilling (U. Penn.)
R. M. Wagner (LBT Obs.)
L. H. Wasserman (Lowell)

The Kuiper Belt is a zone beyond Neptune containing tens of thousands of asteroidal sized objects orbiting the Sun. These bodies promise fundamental insight into the chief unsolved problem in planet formation - how (micron) sized dust grains in the early solar nebula agglomerated into the km sized planetesimals we observe today. Their physical characteristics contain fossil remnants of the chemical and dynamical processes that molded the outer regions of the protoplanetary disk. Furthermore, the Kuiper Belt is the contemporary manifestation in our Solar System of circumstellar dust disks seen around other stars and offers a bridge between planetary astronomy and extrasolar astrophysics. In this proposal, we seek to undertake a deep survey of the ecliptic to learn the dimensions, content, and dynamical characteristics of the Kuiper Belt. The product of this survey will be a unique, publicly accessible database of ~500 new Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) discovered with well-understood and readily quantified biases. The statistics of our survey are sufficient to answer fundamental questions regarding the origin and evolution of our own Solar System. Moreover, this survey is badly needed to facilitate physical studies (e.g., spectroscopy, photometry, and thermal IR measurements) of KBOs with 6-to- 10-meter-class groundbased telescopes and with space observatories such as HST and SIRTF.