Thought to be leftover materials from the beginning of the outer planet formations, the Kuiper Belt is found in the outer solar system.
The official name is the Kuiper-Edgeworth Belt, and it is a region that is disk-shaped and found past the orbit of Neptune.
This area extends from Neptune’s orbit out to nearing 50 AU from the Sun and holds millions of small icy bodies made up of nitrogen, methane, ammonia, and water.
Although similar to the asteroid belt, the Kuiper Belt is around 20-200 times more massive and 20 times wider.
Kenneth Edgeworth was an astronomer that proposed that comets and large celestial objects might exist in abundance outside of Neptune. His 1943 proposal was viewed as a theory.
In 1950, a Dutch astronomer, Jan Oort, proposed that the comets that appear in our solar system originated from the outskirts of the system.
He felt that this was a huge unexplored area and when his observation was confirmed, the scientific community named the Oort Cloud after him.
In 1951, Gerard Kuiper made the prediction of the existence of a vast area outside of Neptune that held icy objects.
Due to the fact that both Edgeworth and Kuiper made similar predictions, astronomers call the area the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt to honor both astronomers.
There are three dwart planets that we know of that are within the Kuiper Belt: Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake. Scientists believe that some of the moons in our Solar System, such as Saturn’s Phoebe and Neptune’s Triton, started out in the Kuiper Belt.
The Kuiper Belt is rather thick in most of its location and appears as a kind of torus-shape rather than a traditional belt shape. Objects that are inside of the belt, as well as members of other locations such as the Oort cloud and Hill cloud are knowns as a group under the name “trans-Neptunian Objects (TNO). This name is a collective name, even though the Oort Cloud is thousands of times further away.
Facts about the Kuiper Belt
- Scientists estimate that there are around 35,000 objects in the Kuiper Belt that are bigger than 100 mm in diameter.
- The quantity of objects in the Kuiper Belt is several hundred times the number and mass of those that are found in the asteroid belt.
- Anita Cochran and a team of astronomers attempted to confirm that there might be as many as 100 million faint and small objects inside the Kuiper Belt that have a 20 km or less diameter. They used the Hubble Telescope for their observations.
- In 2006, Pluto was changed in status from a planet designation to a dwarf planet. Pluto is inside the Kuiper Belt.
- Millions of icy objects are inside the Kuiper Belt ranging in size from tiny ice lumps to 100 km diameter.
- NASA’s New Horizons space mission was the first mission designated to fly past Pluto. The results of this mission brought clarity to the surface of Pluto as well as Charon and other moons and objects within the belt and beyond. Prior to New Horizons, Pluto could only be seen as a blurry grey sphere.
- Although Eris is larger than Pluto, it is found in the scattered disc and thought to be originally from the Kuiper Belt.
- The Hubble Telescope has observed structures similar to the Kuiper Belt in at least nine other stars including the Carina constellation, HD 53143 and the Lupus constellation, HD 138664.
- Triton is one of Neptune’s moons and is larger than Pluto. Scientists think that it was originally from the Kuiper Belt and then captured by Neptune’s gravity.
Kuiper Belt Quiz