Kuiper belt is a set of bodies orbiting the sun. It exists beyond the solar system, after Neptune. It is quite similar to the asteroid belt but is much thicker. Pluto, which we once regarded as a planet is an object of the Kuiper Belt. In fact, Kuiper has more planet-like objects that even have their own moons. Read on for more interesting facts about Kuiper Belt.
First predicted by Gerard Kuiper
The Kuiper Belt is named after the Dutch-American astronomer who predicted its existence in 1951. However, he believed that it might have existed once, but did not know that it still existed. The first mention of Kuiper Belt was followed by further speculations by Kenneth Edgeworth in 1943 and Al G.W. Cameron and Fred Whipple in the 1960s. The belt was finally discovered in 1992 by a team from the University of Hawaii.
Objects in Kuiper Belt (KBO)
It is estimated that the Kuiper Belt has at least 100,000 Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) that are over 100 km in diameter. Pluto is the largest KBO in the Kuiper belt followed other Pluto-like dwarf planets, including, Quaoar, Makemake, Haumea, Orcus and, Eris. These objects belong to the group called Trans Neptunian Objects (TNO).
The Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud
Astronomers have known for a long time that there are two different kinds of comets. The first type is the comets of short period orbit, less than 200 years, such as Halley’s Comet. The second type is the comets of long period orbit, i.e., more than 200 years. These are the comets that have been observed only once. Their orbits are massive and randomly distributed in the sky. The question of where these two different comets originate from prodded the astronomers, Gerard Kuiper and Jan Oort to spot two different origins – the Kuiper Belt, which has short period comets and the Oort Cloud which has long period comets.
Triton was once a KBO
Triton is the moon of Neptune and also the largest moon in the solar system. Triton has a retrograde orbit unlike the other moons in the solar system. Its composition is also similar to that of Pluto’s. It is only 13% larger than Pluto. All these pieces of evidence suggested that Triton might have been a KBO once before Neptune’s gravitational pull forced it out its orbit. It is also suggested that Triton might have moved very slow the moment it was caught by Neptune’s pull, which means it could have been a binary object. In fact, there are many binary objects in the Kuiper belt, Pluto and its moon Charon is a classic example.
More information on Kuiper Belt
- Pluto lost its planet status after the discovery of Eris in 2006.
- Kuiper Belt is located 50 A.U. from the sun.
- The Kuiper Belt is 20 times wider and 200 times more massive than the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
- KBOs are mostly composed of volatiles substances such as methane, ice and, ammonia.
- Halley’s Comet is a KBO.
- It is called as Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt named after the two astronomers, Kenneth Edgeworth and Gerard Kuiper who suggested its existence.
- A dwarf planet, Sedna, in the Kuiper belt takes 10,500 years to complete one revolution around the sun.