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Kuiper Belt / Trans-Neptunian Objects

Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are two regions in space that encircle our solar system. The Kuiper Belt contains thousands of asteroids that orbit The Sun outside Neptune`s orbit. The Oort Cloud has not been proven to definately exist as yet unlike the Belt. It is believed Kuiper Belts originate from this region in space. To give some idea of where everything is, have a look at the picture below.

Picture of Sedna and it location

In the picture, copyrighted N.A.S.A., you will see from the picture just how distant these things are from us.

Discovery of the Kuiper Belt

In an area just beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt, an area that contains thousands of asteroids. It is named after Gerard Peter Kuiper, a Dutch Born American Astronomer ( Dec 7, 1905 - Dec 23, 1973) who suggested the existance of the Belt. His theory was not confirmed until August 30, 1992 with the discovery of 1992 QB1 object. It has never been given any other name apart from its original designation. The discoverers wanted to call it Smiley but as there was already an object out there with that name, they declined to give it another name.

Kuiper Belt Objects are also known as Trans-Neptunian Object as they orbit the orbit further out than Neptune. Its existance had first been put forward by Irish Astronomer Kenneth Edgeworth but he`s received little or no recgonition of this. ref:Britannica

Difference between the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud

The most important difference between the top is that the Kuiper Belt is known to exist. The Oort Cloud is a theory that has not yet been proved or disproved. The Kuiper Belt consists of asteroids that and dwarf planets whilst the Oort Cloud will also include comets before they are sent on their way towards the Solar System.

There is no clear distinction between where the Kuiper Belt ends and where the Oort Cloud begins. The current locations of both are, the Kuiper Belt is just outside Nepturne, at about 50 times the distance betwen the Earth and the Sun and the Oort Cloud is about a light year away. The objects of the Oort Cloud are small, our telescopes are far too small for us to see any.

Sedna and Pluto

Sedna was at one time referred to as The Solar Systems tenth planet. However since then, its claim to that stature has diminished. It is three times the distance from the Sun as Pluto and people are questioning as to whether it is part of the Kuiper Belt or not.

There has been a debate as to what constitutes a planet, some saying Sedna is a planet and some saying that Pluto should no longer have that stature. We may never know for a while until the International Astronomer Union finally comes to a decision. Because of its orbit being so far from Pluto but not nearly as far as where the Oort Cloud is supposed to be, astronomers are wondering if there is another belt, an `Inner Oort Cloud`.

Pluto was the first Kuiper Belt Object discovered but was classed as a planet because other Kuiper Belt Objects had not yet been discovered. Pluto was downgraded when the KBO Eris was discovered and that Eris was bigger than Pluto. Eris was originally called Xena and its moon called Gabrielle but was changed so that it was in line with naming other planetoids, that is being named after ancient gods.

If you have a powerful telescope and want to know where to look, the following picture will give you an idea where to point the lense. The time given is in Pacific Standard Time, you will need to adjust depending on where in the world you are.

Rough location of where Sedna is in the night sky

The hunt for the Nineth Planet

The hunt for the new nineth planet after Pluto was downgraded is in full swing. It has been noted that some kuiper belt asteroids are travelling differently to how they are supposed to be. The fact that they are is possibly down to a large planet on the outskirts of our solar system. Its orbit take it out to the far depths of outer space which is why its not been seen. The diagram released by artists at Caltech and NASA show the likely path that the planet takes around the Sun.

N.A.S.A. has taken to using the might of the internet and is calling on amateur astronomers to help through the Backyard Worlds project. The task involves going through thousands of photos and looking for any changes that might indicate a planet or something. It is exactly how Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.

Rumoured orbit of the new nineth planet.

Kuiper Belts around other Stars

In 2006, it was revealed that two stars HD 53143 and HD 139664 were discovered to have their own versions of the Kuiper Belt. Both stars are relatively close to us, a mere 59.77 and 57.87 light years away from us respectively. Ref: Universe Today

In addition to having an Extrasolar Planet (Exoplanet), the star that we know as Fomalhaut in the southern hemisphere is reckoned to have a its own kuiper belt. Fomalhaut`s Kuiper Belt is a little further out from its star than ours. Our Kuiper belt is 50 A.U. from the Sun, in plain English, that means it is fifty times the distance between Earth and the Sun. Fomalhaut`s kuiper belt is 133-158 times the distance from its Sun. It is well know that Fomalhaut has one planet but this discovery increases the chances that the star has multiple planets in orbit. ref:Sky and Telescope

The below table gives brief details of well known Kuiper Belt objects.

NameDiscoverDiscovery DateCategory
OrcusM.Brown, C. Trujillo, D. Rabonowitz17 February 2004Plutino
IxionDeep Ecliptic Society22 May 2001Plutino
SednaM.Brown, C. Trujillo, D. Rabonowitz14 November 2003Trans-Neptunian
DeucalionDeep Ecliptic Survey18 April 1999Trans-Neptunian
RhadamanthusDeep Ecliptic Survey17 April 1999Trans-Neptunian
ChaosDeep Ecliptic Suvey19 November 1998Kuiper Belt
VarunaR. McMilan28 November 2000Kuiper Belt
HuyaIgnacio Ferrin10 March 2000Trans-Neptunian
QuaoarM. Brown, C. Trujillo4 June 2002Kuiper Belt
ErisM. E. Brown, C. A. Trujillo and D. Rabinowitz 21st October 2003Trans-Neptunian
MakeMakeM. E. Brown, C. A. Trujillo, and D. L. Rabinowitz 31st March 2005Trans-Neptunian

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