Kuiper Belt is vast expanse of space beyond the last known gas giant of the Solar System, the Neptune. This space is composed of icy objects. In 1950, it was proposed by Jan Oort, a Dutch astronomer that the comets that we see in our known solar system actually originate from far reaches of the solar system, a large unexplored reservoir! This was named as Oort Cloud.
Before that, Kenneth Edgeworth, yet another astronomer, proposed in 1943 that large celestial objects and comets might exist beyond Neptune. Finally, astronomer Gerard Kuiper, in 1951 predicted the existence of a vast expanse of icy object beyond Neptune. This expanse is today known as Kuiper Belt. But, because Edgeworth proposed a similar theory in 1943, some astronomers today name this belt as Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt in honor of both Kenneth Edgeworth and Gerard Kuiper. Let us take a look at 20 interesting facts about Kuiper Belt.
1. Objects that dwell in the vast expanse of the Kuiper Belt are known as Kuiper Belt Objects or KBOs. Today however, they are often referred to as Dwarf Planets.
2. Kuiper Belt is elliptical in shape. To be precise, it is an elliptical plane. It spans over a distance of 4.5 to 7.4 billion kilometers from Sun. This is approximately 30 to 50 times the distance of Earth from Sun.
3. The Kuiper Belt closely resembles the asteroid belt that is known to exist between giant Jupiter and our neighbor, Mars. However, unlike in the asteroid belt, the objects in Kupier Belt are icier.
4. According to scientific estimates, thousands of objects having a diameter of over 100 kilometers travel within this belt all around the Sun.
5. Scientists also say that there are other small objects, trillions of them, which are present in this belt. Among these objects can be found comets with smaller lifespan.
6. Scientists have found evidence that Kuiper Belt has several round worlds (known as dwarf planets). These round worlds are way larger than a typical asteroid but at the same time, way smaller to be considered to be a full-scale planet and hence the name, dwarf planet.
7. These dwarf planets revolve around the sun in weird orbits. They cannot even clear out the space surrounding them as done by the 8 planets.
8. Pluto, which was once considered the 9th planet of our Solar System, was the first true KBO to be identified. No one back then realized that Pluto was a KBO because existence of the belt wasn’t properly realized. It was only in 1992 that another KBO was discovered by Jane Luu and David Jewitt (the KBO was named as 1992QB1) in outer Solar System. It was a round world that moved slowly. Astronomers soon began to identify other objects and identified the region of icy objects beyond the last gas giant Neptune.
9. Another KBO called Sedna was discovered in 2004. This dwarf planet was only ¾th the size of Pluto. Scientific studies reveal that Senda uses an eccentric orbit to revolve around our Sun.
10. The orbit of Sedna can range between 12.9 billion kilometers to 135 billion kilometers and Sedna requires 10,500 years to complete one revolution.
11. Eris, another KBO or dwarf planet was discovered in 2005. It was initially thought to be larger than Pluto later it was turned out to be a little smaller than Pluto. Eris completes one revolution around the Sun in 580 years.
12. It was the discovery of Eris that cost Pluto its status of a planet. In 2006, scientists renamed Eris, Pluto and the biggest asteroid of the Kuiper Belt, the Ceres as dwarf planets.
13. The Kuiper Belt is as old as the Solar System. It was during the formation of our Solar System that most of rocks, dusts and gases were used up to form the Sun and the 8 planets. The remaining rocks, dusts and gases were then swept away into the Sun or the outer reaches of the Solar System.
14. The objects that were swept into the outer reaches of the Solar System were just far enough to ditch the gravitational pull of Jupiter and hence, kept orbiting the Sun slowing and thus formed the Kuiper Belt.
15. Kuiper Belt has a part called Classic Kuiper Belt. This is the busiest part of this belt and is located at a distance of 42 to 48 AU. AU stands for astronomical unit, which is the unit used to measure the distance of Earth from Sun.
16. The objects found in Kuiper Belt generally have very stable orbit but when they get very close to Neptune, their course may be changed slightly.
17. The objects in Kuiper Belt are so far and small that they cannot be seen from Earth.
18. Spitzer, a space-based NASA telescope used infrared measurements to get the sizes of largest KBOs.
19. New Horizons Mission set by NASA aims towards capturing the glimpses of the remote corners of our Solar System.
20. The mission will reach Pluto, the first ever KBO to be detected, in 2015. The robotic probe will closely study Pluto and then head for other KBOs.
Did you know that the composition of Kuiper Belt is similar to that of comets? The belt consists of different hydrocarbons like methane along with rocks, ammonia and frozen water!