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The Kuiper Belt, after its discovery in 1992, changed the world of astronomy with the introduction of large icy worlds that lay just past Neptune.
The belt is named after Gerard Kuiper, even though he did not discover the region. The inner edge of the belt starts at the orbit of Neptune at around 30 AU (astronomical unit) from the Sun and ends at around 50 AU.
At the time of its discovery, not much was known about the outer region of the Solar System, and Pluto was considered a lone planet because of its tilted and elliptical orbit. The second Kuiper Belt Object was found in 1992, and it led to the belief that there are many other Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) in the belt that had not been discovered by then. The belt is studied by astronomers and from space, spacecraft explore the region.
The Kuiper Belt region is believed to have many similarities with the main asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) and scientists believe that the icy objects in the primordial belt of the Kuiper Belt are leftovers from the creation of the Solar System. The belt is a region of dwarf planets and binary objects. It is believed that these would have formed into a planet if Neptune was not there. The icy objects were unable to come together because of Neptune's gravity.
The Kuiper Belt has been studied regularly since it was found and only theories can state what the icy worlds beyond Pluto hold.
The existence of the belt has been theorized since the discovery of Pluto in 1930, but the crucial evidence to prove its existence was not discovered until 1992. Between 1930 and 1992, various astronomers suggested ideas about the prospect of a belt that went just further than the visible Solar System.
In 1943, independent theoretical astronomer, Kenneth Edgeworth suggested that comets and bigger bodies in our Solar System extended beyond Neptune.
In 1951, Gerard Kuiper, a Dutch astronomer, published a paper speculating the objects being even beyond Pluto. The region has been theorized as several conditions for years. However, Gerard Kuiper was not the one who discovered it. As his theory was popular, the idea of the belt was credited to him.
The discovery of the Kuiper Belt is an amalgamation of the research of Uruguayan astronomer Julio Fernández and a Canadian team of astronomers, who followed up on the findings of Fernández which dismissed the idea of the Oort Cloud acting as a reservoir for short-period comets. His theory also stated that to experience the observed number of comets, a comet belt had to lie between 35-50 AU.
The Canadian team followed up his theory after deducing the fact that the Oort Cloud could not be responsible for all the short-period comets. The words 'Kuiper' and 'comet belt' which appeared in Fernández’s paper, were combined to create the name Kuiper belt.
While the name Kuiper belt is used mostly for the region, the name Edgeworth-Kuiper belt is also used.
However, various astronomers have claimed that neither of these names is correct. Because of this debate, the term trans-Neptunian object or TNO is advised as a collective name for the objects in the belt. However, this too is debated upon, as it can mean any object that is located beyond Neptune's orbit.
The formation of the Kuiper Belt is still shrouded in mystery even today. However, there are various theories explaining the formation of the belt. Scientists believe that the belt comprises excess debris that accumulated from the creation of our planetary system.
The amount of accumulated materials and debris present in the Kuiper Belt is estimated to be a small portion of what remains from the creation of the Solar System.
One of the theories states that the majority of the original material was lost when the orbits of the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune moved. The theory also states that this belt was around 7-10 times larger than the Earth. The theory originates from the earlier studies of the Solar System which state that Neptune and Uranus were forced away to a farther orbit from the Sun due to Saturn and Jupiter shifting.
As Neptune and Uranus kept drifting further, they moved through a dense disk-like region made up of icy bodies, that were leftovers after the giant planets had developed.
Since Neptune's orbit is the most distant, its gravity began bending icy bodies inward, which made the debris move towards other giant planets.
Since Jupiter's gravity is the most powerful, the icy debris experienced a slingshot effect, and the debris moved to the extreme stretches to either form the Oort Cloud, or they were hurled outside the Solar System.
Neptune kept pushing these icy objects towards the Sun and hence created a situation where the planet's orbit drifted further out. The planet's gravity forced the icy bodies to remain in the area, and create what is now known as the Kuiper Belt.
The Kuiper Belt is slowly eroding because objects in the belt hit each other occasionally, causing the objects to break into smaller objects.
The Kuiper Belt stretches from approximately the orbit of Neptune between 30-50 AU from the Sun. The major part of the belt covers regions ranging from 40-48 AU. Other parts of the Kuiper belt contain a disk-like formation of scattered objects that are members of the Trans-Neptunian Objects.
The Kuiper Belt, named after Gerard Kuiper, is one of the largest objects in our Solar System, alongside the Oort Cloud, the magnetosphere, and the heliosphere of Jupiter.
The shape of the Kuiper Belt is like a donut or a puffed-up disk. The inner edge of the belt begins about 30 AU from the Sun, at the orbit of Neptune.
The inner edge, which is the most important region of the Kuiper Belt ends at around 50 AU from the sun.
The outer edge of the main region of the Kuiper Belt overlaps the second region known as the scattered disk, which runs further outward to almost 1000 AU.
The study of the Kuiper Belt allows scientists to learn more about how planets and how the core of the Solar System came to exist. NASA's New Horizon spacecraft passed by the KBO Arrokoth, and scientists believe the study of objects such as the Arrokoth can show us how planets originated in space.
The Kuiper Belt serves as a rich focal point for learning more about the various objects in our Solar System. As of now, there are over 2000 KBOs that have been categorized.
The Kuiper Belt is one of the many intriguing parts of the Solar System that has still yet to be understood and explored extensively by humans.
Eris is known as the second-largest dwarf planet located in the Kuiper Belt. However, Pluto is considered the largest because Eris lies beyond the Kuiper Belt, and is theorized to have been pushed out of the belt because of Neptune's gravity.
Pluto is known as the 'King of the Kuiper Belt.' Although not a giant planet amongst the dwarfs in the Kuiper Belt, Pluto is comparatively larger than most of these trans-Neptunian objects.
The dwarf planet Haumea in the Kuiper Belt is the furthest ringed entity in our Solar System.
Arrokoth, a trans-Neptunian object found in the Kuiper Belt, is the farthest journey made by man in the space exploration of the Solar System! NASA's New Horizons flew by it in 2019.
There are more than 2000 known Kuiper Belt Objects! Scientists believe there are an estimated 100,000 KBOs that are over 62.1 mi (100 km) wide; made up of ammonia, methane, and water.
The Classic Kuiper Belt is known as the busiest part of the Kuiper Belt, and it is located between 42-48 AU (Astronomical unit) from the sun.
Some dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt are believed to have atmospheres so thin that they collapse when their orbits launch them farthest from the Sun.
What is the Kuiper Belt?
The Kuiper Belt is a ring of icy objects revolving around the Sun and extending just past Neptune's orbit.
Why is the Kuiper Belt important?
The Kuiper Belt offers extensive knowledge on the formation of our Solar System, which can be achieved through space exploration and study of various astronomical objects in the belt.
How old is the Kuiper Belt?
Based on assumptions, the Kuiper Belt is believed to be as old as our Solar System.
How cold is the Kuiper Belt?
Scattered objects in the Kuiper Belt are believed to be made up of a variation of icy objects, such as water, ammonia, and methane, because of which the temperature of the Kuiper Belt is estimated to be around 50 K.
When was the Kuiper Belt discovered?
Despite its gigantic size, the Kuiper belt was not discovered until 1992 by astronomers Jane Luu and Dave Jewitt.
What is the largest object in the Kuiper Belt?
Pluto, the dwarf planet, is the largest object in the Kuiper Belt with a diameter of 1478.9 mi (2380 km).
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