Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud


Research for the Solar Wind 5 and 6 takes me to some strange places…

The Kuiper Belt is outside the orbit of Neptune.  Pluto, which used to be a planet and is now classified as a dwarf planet, is actually a Kuiper Belt object, and not even the largest (being another dwarf planet called “Xena”). Pluto was stripped of its planetary status not too long ago, only in 2006, messing with everyone’s minds who had gone to school before that.  The wording in the news that day was memorable:

In a conference on Pluto, astronomers voted that it should be stripped of its planetary status.”  (My mom’s comment:  “What a place to hold a conference! – The food wasn’t good so they stripped it of its planetary status.”)

Pluto has been the object of much abuse in any case; its name is derived from Pluto the dog (Mickey Mouse), following the suggestion of the little daughter of one of its discoverers.

And its orbit is skew.  At least now we know why.

Kuiper Belt objects

Kuiper Belt

It is humbling to try to understand the distances involved.  If one considers that scientists estimate 70 000 Kuiper Belt objects to exist but have so far only found about 1000, you realize that mostly what is out there is nothing.

A lot of it.

So much that the Oort Cloud, the next level, is still hypothetical…  The Oort Cloud supposedly contains more long-period comets that visit the Solar System, but here is a representation of the distances:

Oort Cloud

Please don’t tell me all this went “whoosh”.

We once did a calculation of how many habitable planets are “out there”, potentially, and came up with some astronomical figure.

The chances of other planets harbouring life are almost 100%.

The chances of us ever meeting the same are practically 0% because of the insurmountable distances.

Makes one wonder.

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