Kuiper Belt: Everything You Need to Know About the ‘Graveyard of the Solar System’

Kuiper Belt
An artist's impression of Kuiper Belt

It is without a doubt that there are various mysteries lying in our solar system that are as vast as the universe itself. There are plenty of objects and phenomena that are yet to be discovered, waiting and lurking in the dark space. Some of them lie at the edge of our solar system. Astronomers and scientists call it the Kuiper Belt.

About Kuiper Belt

Discovered by Dave Jewitt and Jane Luu – a pair of scientists who never believed that the outer part of the solar system is empty – Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) came to light back in 1992. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, the pair started their search in 1987 for dim objects that could possibly be lying beyond Neptune. It took them 5 years and a 2.2 meters telescope to discover a reddish-colored speck that is even more distant than Pluto. The pair named it “Smiley” but has been cataloged as “1992 QB1”.

Kuiper Belt was named after Gerard Kuiper, the one who proposed that there is probably a belt of icy bodies beyond Neptune back in 1951. And he was right. The Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped area that goes beyond Neptune. It goes from about 30 to 55 astronomical units in length (compared to Earth which is one astronomical unit, or AU, from the sun). In this faraway place, there are probably hundreds of thousands of icy bodies bigger than 100 km (62 miles) across and an estimated trillion or more comets.

Pluto may be the most well-known object in the Kuiper Belt, but there are a lot of other big things there. There are many comets that come from the Kuiper Belt. They take less than 200 years to orbit the sun, and they travel in a general direction that most planets do, too. 

There are a lot of objects in the Kuiper Belt that are thought to be leftovers from when the solar system was first formed about 4.6 billion years ago. That is why – apart from the fact that the belt is cold, dark, and distant – it is called “the graveyard of the solar system.”

Other well-known Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs)

According to gtd, because they are so small and far away from Earth, objects in the Kuiper Belt are hard to find. NASA’s space-based Spitzer telescope has helped to figure out the sizes of the biggest things. Despite these problems, a few more objects were discovered.

About three-fourths the size of Pluto, Sedna was found in 2004. A single orbit around the sun takes about 10,500 years. It is so far away from the sun that it takes a longer time. One side of Sedna is about 1,100 miles (1,770 km) wide. It circles the sun on an eccentric orbit that goes between 8 billion miles (12.9 billion km) and 84 billion miles (170 million km) (135 billion km).

In July 2005, astronomers said that they had found an object in the Kuiper Belt that was bigger than Pluto, but later observations showed that it was a little smaller. Every 580 years or so, Eris moves away from the sun almost 100 times farther than Earth moves from the sun.

When Eris was found, some astronomers thought it was a bad idea to call Pluto a full-scale planet. So Pluto, Eris, and Ceres were reclassified as dwarf planets in 2006. There were two more dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt in 2008. They were called Haumea and Makemake and they were founded in 2008.

But Haumea may not be a dwarf planet after all. It was more elongated than round when it passed between Earth and a bright star in 2017. According to the definition of a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union, a dwarf planet must be round. Haumea may have a long shape because it spins very quickly. A day only lasts about four hours.

As it sits vastly at the edge of the solar system, the Kuiper Belt definitely still holds more to be discovered. With how advanced our technology is progressing, it would only be a matter of time before they come to light.

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