The first centaur to be discovered, 2060 Chiron was found to display a coma upon its approach to perihelion, and is now officially classified as both a comet (95/P Chiron) and an asteroid, although it is far larger than a typical comet and there is some lingering controversy. Other centaurs are being monitored for comet-like activity.
Centaurs are not in stable orbits and will eventually be removed from the solar system by the giant planets. Dynamical studies of their orbits indicate that centaurs are probably an intermediate orbital state of objects transitioning from the Kuiper Belt to the Jupiter Family of short period comets. Objects may be perturbed from the Kuiper Belt whereupon they become Neptune-crossing and interact gravitationally with that planet. They then become classed as centaurs, but their orbits are chaotic, evolving relatively rapidly as the centaur makes repeated close approaches to one or more of the outer planets. Some centaurs will evolve into Jupiter-crossing orbits whereupon their perihelia may become reduced into the inner solar system and they may be reclassified as active comets in the Jupiter Family if they display cometary activity. Centaurs will thus ultimately collide with the Sun or a planet or else they may be ejected into interstellar space after a close approach to one of the planets, particularly Jupiter.
No centaur has yet been photographed up close by a spacecraft, although there is evidence that Saturn's moon Phoebe, imaged by the Cassini probe in 2004, may be a captured centaur. In addition, the Hubble Space Telescope has gleaned some information about the surface features of 8405 Asbolus. In 2010, the New Horizons spacecraft is expected to perform a distant flyby of a centaur, (83982) 2002 GO9.
Well-known centaurs include:
Name Year Discoverer
10199 Chariklo 1997 Spacewatch
8405 Asbolus 1995 Spacewatch (James V. Scotti)
7066 Nessus 1993 Spacewatch (David L. Rabinowitz)
5145 Pholus 1992 Spacewatch (David L. Rabinowitz)
2060 Chiron 1977 Charles T. Kowal
The minor planets
Vulcanoids | Main belt | Groups and families | Near-Earth objects | Jupiter Trojans
Centaurs | Damocloids | Comets | Trans-Neptunians (Kuiper belt | Scattered disc | Oort cloud)
For other objects and regions, see: Binary asteroids, Asteroid moons and the Solar system
For a complete listing, see: List of asteroids. For pronunciation, see: Pronunciation of asteroid names.
The Solar System
Sun | Mercury | Venus | Earth (Moon) | Mars | Asteroid belt
Jupiter | Saturn | Uranus | Neptune | Pluto | Kuiper belt | Scattered disc | Oort cloud
See also astronomical objects and the solar system's list of objects, sorted by radius or mass
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