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Beyond Earthly Skies

Searching for Far-Flung Objects

12 Oct 2013, 10:00 UTC
Searching for Far-Flung Objects
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Trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) are objects that orbit the Sun beyond Neptune. They mainly are found either as Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) or Oort cloud objects (OCOs). KBOs orbit the Sun within a region extending from the orbit of Neptune out to ~50 AU. Pluto is an example of a KBO and one of its largest members. Detecting KBOs, especially smaller bodies, is very challenging due to the huge distance and faintness of these objects. As a result, small KBOs with sizes on the order of a few km or less still elude detection even though they are expected to be far more numerous than larger KBOs. Beyond the KBOs are the OCOs. These objects comprise the Oort cloud, an enormous spherical cloud of icy bodies extending as far as 50,000 AU from the Sun, or nearly a quarter of the distance to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun.Figure 1: Artist’s concept of the Solar System in perspective. The scale bar is in astronomical units, with each set distance beyond 1 AU representing 10 times the previous distance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.The Oort cloud is thought to be made of two separate regions: a spherical outer Oort cloud and a disc-shaped ...

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