Prior to the detection of the first trans-Neptunian objects by Jewitt and Luu in 1992, little was known about the content of the solar system between the orbit of Neptune at 30 AU and the Oort cloud, the source of long period comets beyond 10,000 AU. Now we know that the region between 30 and 50 AU is populated by tens of thousands of icy bodies with diameters in excess of 50 kilometers. These grew by the accretion of solids during the early stages of planet formation until some undetermined process increased their velocity dispersion to the extent that accretion terminated. Subsequently, owing to their large separations, these bodies escaped further collisional evolution. Thus they provide our best record of the early stages of planet formation.
The search that culminated in the discovery of the first trans-Neptunian body took 5 years. It was initiated while Jewitt was an Assistant Professor at MIT and Luu was his graduate student.
Astronomy Selection Committee
The Shaw Prize
31 August 2012 Hong Kong