Kuiper Belt & Oort Cloud Facts
- Objects orbiting in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud are mainly composed of rock, ice, ammonia and methane.
- When objects from the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud enter the inner solar system they become comets due to interactions with the sun.
- There are thought to be at least 70,000 objects in the Kuiper Belt with a diameter over 62 miles (100 km).
- The dwarf planets Pluto, Eris, MakeMake and Haumea all orbit in the Kuiper Belt.
- The Kuiper Belt is named after the Dutch astronomer Gerard Kuiper.
- There are possibly 2 trillion icy bodies in the Oort Cloud.
- The Oort Cloud extends so far it almost reaches a quarter way to the nearest star Proxima Centauri.
- Objects found in the Oort Cloud are believed to be remnants from the early formation of the solar system that were thrown far into space by the gravity of the giant planets.
- The Oort Cloud is named after another Dutch astronomer Jan
The Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud
The Kuiper BeltThe Kuiper Belt is located at around 2.8 billion miles (4.5 billion km) from the sun and extends several billion miles. It is similar to the asteroid belt except it is around 20 times larger, and instead of being primarily composed of rocks objects found here also contain methane, ammonia and ice.
The Oort CloudThe Oort Cloud begins at 750 billion km from the sun and ends at the very edge of our solar system, almost 1 light year from the sun. It is a massive spherical cloud containing billions of icy bodies. Occasionally these bodies get knocked out of their orbit and enter the inner solar system, they then become comets. Although some comets originate from the Kuiper Belt most come from the Oort Cloud.
Comet Hale-BoppComets originally form as balls of ice and rock in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud
Oort CloudThe Oort Cloud is composed of icy objects which surrounds the solar system
There has already been several stunningly successful missions to study comets, Giotto in 1986 studied Halley’s Comet and then went on to make a close pass of Grigg-Skjellerup in 1992. Stardust captured comet dust from Comet Wild 2 in 2004 and returned those samples safely to Earth. It then went on to make a flyby of comet Tempel 1. In 2005 an even more ambitious mission was launched. Deep Impact was equipped with a probe that would be sent on a collision course with Comet Tempel 1. The probe successfully crashed into the comet in July of that year.
New HorizonsLaunch: January 2006
Arrival: July 2015
After its visit to Pluto NASA is hoping to extend the New Horizons mission to investigate one or maybe two other Kuiper Belt Objects. Mission controllers will search for objects near the craft's flight path that have diameters between 50 to 100 kilometers for a possible flyby.
Comet Bombardment of Early Earth
Deep Impact Approaching Comet
Comet Hale Bopp from Earth