Top 10 Kuiper Belt Facts: Our Solar System’s Fascinating Icy Belt
Kuiper Belt Facts #10: The Kuiper Belt is WAY out there
The Kuiper Belt lies beyond the orbit of Neptune in our solar system. In fact, the icy belt extends from 30 to 55 astronomical units out from the Sun. In other words, that’s 2.8 – 5.1 billion miles out!
Kuiper Belt Facts #9: Predicted, then discovered
Like many things in science, the Kuiper Belt was first predicted by Gerard Kuiper in 1951. Only later, in 1992 did a team of astronomers observe the first Kuiper Belt Object after five years of scouring the skies.
Kuiper Belt Facts #8: Dear Kuiper Belt, thank you for the Moons
Planets, Neptune and Saturn are believed to have gotten at least one of their moons from the Kuiper Belt. Indeed, as large icy bodies became knocked loose the gas giants roped them into their powerful gravity.
Kuiper Belt Facts #7: The neighborhood of a famous planet
The Kuiper Belt is home to several dwarf planets, such as Makemake, Haumea and more. However, the belt is also home to Pluto, our beloved former-planet. In fact, Pluto is the largest object in the Kuiper Belt. Ultimately, planet or not, Pluto has a special place in our hearts and solar system!
Kuiper Belt Facts #6: The first mission to the Kuiper Belt
As of July 2015, a human spacecraft reached the Kuiper Belt. NASA’s New Horizons mission official reached the belt as it approached former planet, Pluto. Originally, blasting off from Cape Canaveral in 2006, the craft blazed at 36,000 miles per hour for nine years to reach the frozen target.
Kuiper Belt Facts #5: Close encounter with a KBO
After successfully reaching Pluto and captivating the world, NASA granted New Horizons an extended mission. The craft is now en route to a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO), which it will reach in early 2019.
Kuiper Belt Facts #4: Snap, that’s a lot of comets!
The Kuiper Belt is believed to contain more than a trillion comets! In fact, when the gravity of other objects knocks the comets free, they often enter our solar system. Actually, several of the comets that frequent our inner- and outer solar system are thought to have originated in the Kuiper Belt.
Kuiper Belt Facts #3: Fascinating retractable atmospheres
Indeed, our universe is full of bazaar objects. However, some planets in the Kuiper Belt have retractable atmospheres. As the planets grow increasingly farther from the Sun in their orbits, their atmospheres begin to collapse, only to appear again as they approach the Sun again.
Kuiper Belt Facts #2: Frozen clues about the solar system
Ices in the Kuiper Belt date back to the time our solar system first formed. Because of this, the ice chunks give us valuable clues about conditions during this time. In fact, our solar system’s formation is still one of astronomy’s biggest mysteries. Therefore, scientists are eager to learn more about the Kuiper Belt, and in turn, our solar system.
Kuiper Belt Facts #1: One of many Kuiper Belts
Astronomers have observed Kuiper Belts surrounding at least nine other stars. Actually, Hubble Space Telescope has even imaged such icy discs around two stars (HD 138664 and HD 53143). While astronomers are eager to learn more about how and why such belts form, they are still a large mystery.