The Kuiper belt

The Kuiper belt (/ˈkaɪpər/ or Dutch pronunciation: [‘kœy̯pǝr]), sometimes called the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt, is a circumstellar disc in the Solar System beyond the (known) planets, 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 the Solar System’s formation. 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, are thought to have originated in the region.

The Kuiper belt was named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, though he did not predict its existence. In 1992, 1992 QB1 was discovered, the first Kuiper belt object (KBO) since Pluto. Since its discovery, the number of known KBOs has increased to over a thousand, and more than 100,000 KBOs over 100 km (62 mi) in diameter are thought to exist.The Kuiper belt was initially thought to be the main repository for periodic comets, those with orbits lasting less than 200 years. Studies since the mid-1990s have shown that the belt is dynamically stable, and that comets’ true place of origin is the scattered disc, a dynamically active zone created by the outward motion of Neptune 4.5 billion years ago; scattered disc objects such as Eris have extremely eccentric orbits that take them as far as 100 AU from the Sun.