From what the belt is, to how it’s helped change the classification of the solar system, and more! Join me as I reveal to you the facts and history of the Kuiper Belt!
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9. What Is The Kuiper Belt?
Despite it being a major part of our solar system, there are many who honestly don’t understand the grand scale and scope of the Kuiper Belt. So allow us to give you some perspective on the matter.
The Kuiper Belt is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive.
Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies or remnants from when the Solar System formed. While many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed “ices”), such as methane, ammonia and water.
The Kuiper belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea and Makemake. Some of the Solar System’s moons, such as Neptune’s Triton and Saturn’s Phoebe, may have originated in the region.
In many respects, the Kuiper Belt is the “end” of our solar system in terms of things like the physical objects that are there and reachable. The “edge” of the solar system is a slightly different matter as that would either be the Heliosphere (if you go by magnetic fields) or the Oort Cloud, which is where the suns’ gravity reaches the end of its influence.
But either way, the Kuiper Belt is a major part of our solar system in the literal and figurative sense. Which is rather interesting when you think about it because for a very long time we didn’t understand what was truly in that realm of space as a whole.
8. The Discovery Of The Kuiper Belt
To truly understand the Kuiper Belt, we have to dive into something you’re very familiar with, Pluto.
After the discovery of Pluto in 1930, many speculated that it might not be alone. The region now called the Kuiper belt was hypothesized in various forms for decades. It was only in 1992 that the first direct evidence for its existence was found. The number and variety of prior speculations on the nature of the Kuiper belt have led to continued uncertainty as to who deserves credit for first proposing it.
But let’s go back to the beginning and just break it down from there, shall we?
The first astronomer to suggest the existence of a trans-Neptunian population was Frederick C. Leonard. Soon after Pluto’s discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Leonard pondered whether it was “not likely that in Pluto there has come to light the first of a series of ultra-Neptunian bodies, the remaining members of which still await discovery but which are destined eventually to be detected”.
That same year, astronomer Armin O. Leuschner suggested that Pluto “may be one of many long-period planetary objects yet to be discovered.”
This is fascinating for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that the discovery of Pluto should have been a finite discovery, or one that led to more study of the planet and what it could mean as a whole. Yet many scientists looked upon it and wondered if it was telling us everything we needed to know about the region.
In 1943, in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Kenneth Edgeworth hypothesized that, in the region beyond Neptune, the material within the primordial solar nebula was too widely spaced to condense into planets, and so rather condensed into a myriad of smaller bodies.
From this he concluded that “the outer region of the solar system, beyond the orbits of the planets, is occupied by a very large number of comparatively small bodies” and that, from time to time, one of their number “wanders from its own sphere and appears as an occasional visitor to the inner solar system”, becoming a comet.
That’s not a bad way to describe what the Kuiper Belt really is, and he was right that by modern classifications, the various items in the belt weren’t able to go and become fully-fledged planets. But more on that in a bit.
Before we continue to break down everything that’s going on with the Kuiper Belt, be sure to like or dislike the video, that way we can continue to improve our content for you, the viewer! Also be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss ANY of our weekly videos!
7. Continued Theories
The more that astronomers wondered about the Kuiper Belt, the more that speculations rose and fell about what it is, what it could be, what it could’ve been, and more.
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