Monday, December 12, 2005

What is the Kuiper Belt?

The Kuiper Belt is a very large ring of debris that encircles our Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune. Pluto is considered chief among these because we found it first, before we discovered the belt. The objects in the belt range in size from mere fragments to larger, possibly even moon-sized objects. Right now scientists believe there are at least 70,000 KBO (Kuiper Belt Objects) larger than 100 km. These objects are believed to be left over from the beginning of the Solar System and will provide clues to how our system formed.
The Belt itself stretches from 30 AU (Astronomical Units--distance from the Sun to the Earth) to 50 AU, and although not much is known about it or the composition of the objects within astronomers have discovered at least one large, ice-covered world about half the size of Pluto. Imaged by Hubble, it's named Quaoar and is greater in volume than all the asteroids combined.
And once scientists have a handle on the Kuiper Belt, maybe they can get started on the Oort Cloud which possibly contains a trillion lurking comets...

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