What is the Kuiper belt anyway?

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Yesterday, January 1, 2019 at 12:33 a.m. ET, the New Horizons Spacecraft flew within 2,200 miles (3,540 km) of the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO), formally known as 2014 MU69, now known as Ultima Thule. It’s important to note that Ultima Thule is 1 Billion Miles (1.6 Billion km) past Pluto.

What’s past Pluto?

After the New Horizons spacecraft just visited the furthest object in the history of mankind, some of us might be asking, what’s past Pluto?

Well it’s the Kuiper Belt

What is the Kuiper belt anyway? 

The Kuiper belt is an asteroid belt on the outskirts of our solar system. Not to be confused with “The Asteroid Belt” between Mars and Jupiter (which makes the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter seem like child’s play in terms of size and distance.)

Starting at 30 AU (Astronomical Unit ~ 93 million miles (150 million km) for the normie), and spanning to approximately 50 AU, the Kuiper belt is absolutely enormous. It’s a massive body that contains asteroids and icy bodies that are just as old as the solar system itself.  

This image depicts the potential path New Horizons will take to reach its next target in the Kuiper Belt: 2014 MU69.
Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

So why is the New Horizons visit of Ultima Thule important?

Ultima Thule (An asteroid approximately 22 miles across) is the farthest object that any spacecraft has ever visited, and you guessed it: It’s in the Kuiper belt.

The Kuiper belt is vastly unexplored but with the healthy New Horizons spacecraft still on its journey, we have a very good chance of seeing what else the Kuiper belt has in store for us all besides the peanut shaped Ultima Thule Asteroid.  

Illustration of what Asteroid Ultima Thule may look like. Illustration courtesy of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory LLC.

New Horizons has made waves in the record books this year, I for one cannot wait to see what else New Horizons finds out in this vast region of uncharted space. Pluto and Ultima Thule are just the tips of the iceberg.

Astronomical events happening this year:

  • January 6: Partial Solar Eclipse
    Partial Solar Eclipse at 8:42 p.m. ET will only be visible over parts of Asia and the Northern Pacific.
  • January 21: Super Blood Moon Eclipse
    A Lunar Eclipse will be visible at 12:12 a.m. ET over the Americas as well as western parts of Africa and Europe.
  • May 6: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Peak
    Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower starting at approximately 3:00 a.m. this meteor shower will be at its peak. Although Eta Aquarids is visible from April 19 through May 23.
  • July 2: Solar Eclipse
    South Asia and South America will witness a total Solar Eclipse this year from 12:55 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. ET, with the maximum eclipse occurring at 3:23 p.m. ET.
  • July 16: Partial Lunar Eclipse
    Another partial Lunar Eclipse will be visible for several countries including Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and South America. Beginning at 9:31 p.m. UT
  • November 11: Mercury rare transit
    Mercury will pass in between earth and the sun. This is a rare occasion that only happens 13 times every century. It will appear as a little black dot that crosses the sun. This will take place at 7:34 a.m. ET and last for several hours.
  • December 26: Ring of Fire Solar Eclipse
    Going out with a glorious ring of fire! The annual Solar Eclipse will unfortunately only be visible over Arabian Peninsula right at dawn. 

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