Telescopic Observations

Continued support for both ground-and space-based telescopic studies is an essential aspect of a program for the exploration of the trans-neptunian solar system. The highest priority for both ground-and space-based studies is significant access to existing and future moderate-to large-aperture telescopes equipped with modern instrumentation designed to meet the needs of planetary observers. Telescopes in the 2- to 4-meter class are ideally suited to searching for new KBOs. But larger telescopes (8 to 10 m) are required for spectroscopic studies of known KBOs.


Although access to suitable telescopes can provide much new data, with augmentations in a few critical areas ground-and space-based observations could provide even more information about the trans-neptunian solar system. These augmentations include:

  • Equipping future large space telescopes to study trans-neptunian objects. To be capable of making the critical measurements of trans-neptunian objects, future large space telescopes should be designed from the outset to incorporate the ability to track moving targets and to measure the thermal emission from small, cold (<40 Kelvin) objects.
  • Developing instrumentation for ground-and space-based telescopes. Studies of the statistical properties of Kuiper Belt objects would benefit greatly from the availability of large array detectors. In addition, studies of the physical and chemical properties of all trans-neptunian objects would be enhanced by the availability of high-quantum-efficiency array detectors (~1 to 10 microns for studies of reflected light and ~10 to 100 microns for studies of thermal emission), and cooled telescopes.

Research and Analysis.

Continued support for research and analysis programs and for relevant theoretical and laboratory studies is an essential component of a program of spacecraft and telescopic observations of the trans-neptunian solar system. Theoretical and laboratory studies of the physical and chemical processes that influence the structure and evolution of cold (<40 Kelvin), icy bodies located in the trans-neptunian region should be fully supported to enhance the scientific return from spacecraft missions and telescopic observations.


1. Space Studies Board, National Research Council, An Integrated Strategy for the Planetary Sciences: 1995–2010, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1994, pp. 12–13.

2. C. Kowal, “A Solar System Survey,” Icarus 77:118, 1989.

3. D.C. Jewitt, J.X. Luu, and J. Chen, “The Mauna Kea-Cerro Tololo (MKCT) Kuiper Belt and Centaur Survey,”Astronomical Journal 455:1225, 1996.

4. D.P. Cruikshank, ed., Neptune and Triton, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, 1995.

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