The Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped region of icy objects beyond the orbit of Neptune -- billions of kilometers from our sun. Pluto and Eris are the best known of these icy worlds. There may be hundreds more of these ice dwarfs out there. The Kuiper Belt and even more distant Oort Cloud are believed to be the home of comets that orbit our sun. The best known resident of the Kuiper Belt is Pluto, but it also is home to Eris, Haumea, Makemake and countless comets.
10 Need-To-Know Things About the Regions Beyond Neptune
- The Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are regions of space. The known icy worlds and comets in both regions are much smaller than Earth's moon.
- The Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud surround our sun, a star. The Kuiper Belt is a doughnut-shaped ring, extending just beyond the orbit of Neptune from about 30 to 55 AU. The Oort Cloud is a spherical shell, occupying space at a distance between five and 100 thousand AU.
- Long-period comets (which take more than 200 years to orbit the sun) come from the Oort Cloud. Short-period comets (which take less than 200 years to orbit the Sun) originate in the Kuiper Belt.
- There may be are hundreds of thousands of icy bodies larger than 100 km (62 miles) and an estimated trillion or more comets within the Kuiper Belt. The Oort Cloud may contain more than a trillion icy bodies.
- Some dwarf planets within the Kuiper Belt have thin atmospheres that collapse when their orbit carries them farthest from the sun.
- Several dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt have tiny moons.
- The are no known rings around worlds in either region of space.
- The first mission to the Kuiper Belt is New Horizons. New Horizons will reach Pluto in 2015.
- Neither region of space is capable of supporting life as we know it.
- Both the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are named for the astronomers who predicted their existence during the 1950s: Gerard Kuiper and Jan Oort.
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