Saturday, June 21, 2014

THE KUIPER BELT…Where is it?

The Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped region of icy objects located beyond the orbit of Neptune.  The region was named after a Dutch astronomer, Gerard Kuiper, in 1992. Scientists believe this area is far larger than the rocky asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. It is believed this region is 20 to 200 times the size of the Asteroid Belt.
Some known facts about the Kuiper Belt are:
·         The known icy worlds and comets in this region are much smaller than our moon.
·         The Kuiper Belt is a donut shaped ring extending just beyond the orbit of Neptune from about 30 to 55 AU (Astronomical Unit).  The distance from our sun to Earth is 1 AU, or 93 million miles.
·         Short period comets that take less than 200 years to orbit the sun, originate in this region. Long period comets that take more than 200 years, originate in the Oort Cloud, which lies just beyond the Kuiper Belt.
·         There may be hundreds of thousands of icy objects over 62 miles in diameter within the Kuiper Belt.
·         There have been eight identified dwarf planets orbiting within the Kuiper Belt and several of these have tiny moons.
·         The first mission to the Kuiper Belt is New Horizons. New Horizons will reach Pluto in 2015.
·         Gerard Kuiper predicted the existence of such a region in space during the 1950’s. It wasn’t until 1992 his theory was proven correct
Detecting objects in this region of space is not easy because they are very faint and move very slowly. It takes hundreds of years for one of these objects to complete one orbit around the sun.
Later, we have come to realize that Pluto and its five known moons: Charon, Hydra, Nix, P4, discovered by Hubble in 2011, and P5 more recently discovered by Hubble in 2012, reside in the Kuiper Belt.  Pluto isn’t the only dwarf planet to take up residence there, Eris, Makemake, Haumea, Quaoar, Sedna, Orcus, and Varuna orbit in the icy fringes of our solar system.   
The Kuiper Belt is still a busy place. There have been over a thousand objects discovered and it’s theorized that there are as many as one-hundred thousand objects larger than 62 miles in diameter yet to be discovered there.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will reach this region in 2015, and capture the first ever close up pictures of a KuiperBelt object, images of the surface of Pluto.

For more information – check this site out:
New Horizons – now in flight:
My sources: NASA, Windows to the Universe, Wikipedia, Universe Today, and European Space Agency

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