- The Kuiper belt is similar to the asteroid belt, however on a much larger scale. In fact it is 20 times a wide as the asteroid belt and 20 to 200 times as massive.
- The belt is named after a Dutch astronomer called Gerard Kuiper who predicted in 1951 that the region exists. However the belt is so far away and the objects there are so small when compared with Earth, it was 1992 before the first Kuiper belt object was discovered.
- The Kuiper belt is filled with small solar system bodies. These are any objects that have not been classed as a planet, dwarf planet or satellite. They are very faint and move slowly – some taking hundreds of years to complete an orbit around the Sun. This makes them rather difficult to spot!
- There are millions of objects in the Kuiper belt. Most of them are frozen ones made from methane, ammonia and water. However there are still plenty made of rock and metal.
- The size of the objects ranges widely from small chunks of ice to others that can be up to 100 kilometres across. The largest object in the Kuiper belt is Pluto.
- The theory is that these objects are “left overs” from the origins of the Sun and planets. It is thought that the larger planets such as Jupiter and Saturn pushed all of them out towards the edge of the solar system.
- Three dwarf planets reside within the Kuiper belt. These are Pluto, Haumea and Makemake.
- It is thought that some of the moons for other planets came from the Kuiper belt originally. The theory is that they were captured by gravitational forces of their current parent planets. These include Saturn’s Phoebe and Neptune’s Triton.
- No spacecraft has ever visited the Kuiper belt. The exciting news is that one is on its way now! This is of course NASA’s New Horizons mission which has flown by Pluto and is now on its way to the Kuiper belt. Hopefully we will find out many new facts about this huge region which is so very far away.