Kuiper Belt

Discovered in 1992, the Kuiper Belt is a large expanse of space just outside the edge of our solar system that contains a large number of small objects. This belt is similar to the asteroid belt, but is much larger, much farther away and may contain more frozen water and volatile gases than the metallic asteroids.

Solar System orbit scale in Astronomical Units (AUs):
Sun 0
Earth 1
Mars 1.5
Asteroid belt 2.3 – 3.3
Jupiter 5
Neptune 30
Kuiper belt 30 – 55
Oort cloud 2,000 – 50,000

The Kuiper Belt – [solarviews.com]

In 1950, Dutch astronomer Jan Oort hypothesized that comets came from a vast shell of icy bodies about 50,000 times farther from the Sun than Earth is. A year later astronomer Gerard Kuiper suggested that some comet-like debris from the formation of the solar system should also be just beyond Neptune. In fact, he argued, it would be unusual not to find such a continuum of particles since this would imply the primordial solar system has a discrete “edge.”

The Kuiper Belt – [harmsy.freeuk.com]

From 1992 onwards, astronomers began to discover large numbers of these bodies orbiting beyond Neptune, between 30-50 AU. This is the Kuiper Belt. At least 70,000 are known with diameters above 100 km. The vast majority, however, are between 10-50 km across, and so are very dim indeed.

Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt & Dust Disk – [solstation.com]

Most EKOs orbit the Sun in a disk-shaped region lying mostly within the plane of the planets beyond the orbit of Neptune, or more than 30 AUs outwards from the Sun. Unlike active comets, these icy planetary bodies are thought to be primordial planetesimals that were left relatively untouched (other than from mutual collisions) in the plane of the dust disk from which all planets formed during the first 100 million years or so of the Solar System’s birth. Unlike the rocky asteroids, EKOs and comets lie so far out from the Sun that they still contain a lot of water and gas ices (like methane) on their surface.

SEE ALSO:
Asteroid Belt
Oort Cloud

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