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A Belt Beyond Pluto

There may be many small dwarf planets beyond pluto in the Kuiper belt. Is there anything beyond Pluto? Yes. Thousands of small objects orbit the Sun beyond Pluto. Most are found in an area called the Kuiper Belt. You will find asteroids, comets, dwarf planets, and other small solar system bodies. The objects you find out there are also called Trans-Neptunians (beyond Neptune). Astronomers have only begun to examine the area since 1992. It takes special probes and telescopes to study the area.

The Kuiper Belt is like the asteroid belt in some ways. A very large area looks like a flattened doughnut. The shape is also called a toroid. Astronomers believe the area holds pieces that have remained the same since the beginning of the Solar System. You start to encounter objects in the Kuiper Belt at about 50 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. The edge of the Solar System is about 100 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

Distant Asteroids

As we said, there are many asteroids found in the Kuiper Belt. Many of them have diameters more than 50 miles across. Astronomers also believe that many short-period comets begin their lives in the belt. An example of a short-period comet is Halley's Comet with a period of 76 years. Short-period comets make a complete elliptical orbit in less than 200 years. Comets that take longer to complete a trip around the Sun are called long-period and are usually found in the Oort Cloud.

Exploring The Kuiper Region

As time passes, astronomers will learn more about the objects in the Kuiper Belt. They currently have records of over 70,000 objects (mainly asteroids). Because they are so far away, they are very difficult to study. Imagine trying to look at a black rock (in black space) that is only 50 miles across from about 46.5 billion miles away. That's what scientists have to deal with.

In January 2006, the New Horizons mission was launched to study Pluto and objects in the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft should reach Pluto in 2015 and then continue through the belt in 2016. There are many discoveries to be made in the farthest reaches of our Solar System.

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- Heliopause
- Asteroid Belt
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> Kuiper Belt
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- Saturn's Moons

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Keywords for Review

Kinetic Energy: The energy of an object related to the motion of the object. On a simple level, an object that is not moving has no kinetic energy. An object that is moving has some amount of kinetic energy. The more an object moves, the more kinetic energy it has. An object increases its kinetic energy if it accelerates and increases its velocity. For example, as you increase the temperature of a gas, the molecules become more energetic and the system has an overall increase in kinetic energy. Kinetic Energy=(0.5)* mass * (velocity)2

Exothermic: A chemical reaction that releases energy after the reaction is complete. The energy is usually released as heat, but it can also be released as light or sound. On a small scale, a burning candle releases light and heat because of exothermic reactions as the wax burns. On a large scale, an explosion might occur when blasting with sticks of dynamite (TNT).

Activation Energy: The least amount of energy needed for a chemical reaction to occur. Reactions often require some amount of energy to get moving. For example, placing hydrogen and oxygen gases in a container will not give you water. There is a certain amount of energy required to get the first reaction going. Catalysts are substances that help to lower activation energies so that reactions can proceed.

Viscosity: A term used to measure the fluidity of a liquid. As the attractions between the molecules increase, viscosity increases. Fluids with high viscosities don’t flow easily. Some substances such as honey or sap are very slow moving and have high viscosities. Other fluids such as water or mercury (Hg) have very low viscosities.

Volatile: Volatility is the likelihood that a substance will vaporize (become a gas). Volatility measurements are all about comparing two substances. Substances with a higher vapor pressure are more volatile. Alcohol is more volatile than water because it evaporates at a lower temperature.

Reference Materials

Encyclopædia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/369668/matter
NYU.edu: http://www.nyu.edu/pages/mathmol/textbook/whatismatter.html
NASA: http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/k-12/airplane/state.html
NASA: http://astroventure.arc.nasa.gov/teachers/pdf/AV-Astronolesson-Part2.pdf
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/States_of_matter


 
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- Cosmos4Kids: Comets
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- Physics4Kids: Gravity
- Physics4Kids: Acceleration
- Physics4Kids: Magnetic Fields
- Physics4Kids: Light

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