Typically, the Kuiper belt, located beyond Neptune, houses numerous small icy bodies, including the famous Pluto, a dwarf planet. However, beyond 50 astronomical units (AU), the belt abruptly ends, leaving a void. One AU is the average distance between Earth and the Sun, defined as 149,597,870 km or 92,955,807 miles.
Astronomers, while searching for new targets for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, have made a preliminary discovery of about a dozen objects beyond 60 AU, challenging the current understanding of the Kuiper Belt's limits.
In fact, NASA scientists believe there’s a second belt of space bodies at 60-70 astronomical units from our star or an extension of the Kuiper Belt beyond expectations.
The findings, awaiting peer review in a research published by Science, are based on the data transmitted by the probe New Horizons, which is currently at 57 AU.
Surprisingly, the amount of dust detected by the spacecraft's instruments remains consistent, contrary to previous knowledge of decreasing volumes after leaving the Kuiper Belt.
This suggests the presence of unknown objects in the outer reaches of the Solar System.
While the discovery is promising, skeptics within the astronomical community are cautious, awaiting further evidence. Some recent surveys of the outer Solar System have yielded minimal results, leading to questions about the visibility of these distant objects.
The potential existence of a new belt beyond Kuiper will open a new chapter in the history of space exploration and help us better understand the Solar System itself. New technologies, such as the James Webb Telescope and artificial intelligence are particularly good at data gathering and processing.
New Horizon meanwhile continues its journey to the edge of the Solar System.
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