Past the Point of No Return
The universe is full of mysteries and we still do not know much about it, including what is past our solar system, except for a ring of ice and dust that contains Pluto. The Kuiper Belt was discovered in the early 1990s, barely thirty years ago, and theorized by Gerard Kuiper, who it was later named after (2). The Kuiper Belt holds more than dwarf planets, but is believed to be the remains of our young solar system. This ring of rocks also is the source of comets and asteroids we see pass Earth.
Along with Kuiper, astronomer Kenneth Edgeworth predicted the existence of objects beyond Pluto in 1951 (1). The belt is sometimes referred to as the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt. While there were many predictions of the belt, it was not officially discovered until much later. In 1930, Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, but the Kuiper Belt in which the planet resides was not discovered until 1992 by Dave Jewitt and Jane Luu (1).
Pluto and the Dwarf Planets
Pluto was later classified as a dwarf planet because a portion of its rotation takes place in the Kuiper Belt. Many of the objects in the Kuiper Belt are classified as dwarf planets because of the shape of their rotation. Besides Pluto, Charon, a moon orbiting the dwarf planet, was the second object to be identified in the Belt. Other objects include Eris, Haumea and Quaoar, which all are dwarf planets with their own moons. The Kuiper Belt is almost as endless as our universe.
The Oort cloud is a spherical shell that surrounds our solar system just beyond the Kuiper Belt. The Oort cloud, like the Belt, is the source of many comets (1). There is not much known about the Oort cloud and scientists have yet to observe any object in the cloud. Hopefully, one day we will have the technology to do so and see what is in the Oort cloud and beyond.
1. “Overview.” NASA, NASA, 2017, solarsystem.nasa.gov/solar system/kuiper-belt/overview/.
2. “What Is the Kuiper Belt?” Space Center Houston, 27 May 2020, spacecenter.org/what-is-the-kuiper-belt/.