Pluto and the Kuiper Belt of objects beyond Neptune

Pluto and the Kuiper Belt of objects beyond Neptune

The Kuiper Belt, which has Pluto as the largest member, is a region of comet-like objects just beyond Neptune. Recently the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, showing this dwarf planet’s true nature for the first time. The spacecraft is now on its way to a much smaller Kuiper Belt object that is thought to be a remnant from the initial building blocks of the planets.  We now know of thousands of objects in the Kuiper Belt and find that this belt of left-over objects shows exquisite structure. This structuring in how the Kuiper Belt objects are distributed is a fossilized remnant that shows us how the solar system formed and the planets moved around in the past few billion years. Scott will discuss the new things we have learned about the Kuiper Belt and Pluto and what they tell us about the solar system’s origins and evolution.

 

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About Scott Sheppard

Scott S. Sheppard is an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) in Washington, DC. He obtained his PhD from the University of Hawaii.  Scott studies small bodies in our solar system in order to understand how the planets formed and migrated. If Guinness World Records had a record for the most moon discoveries, Sheppard would hold it as he has discovered over 70 moons around Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  Sheppard also discovered the first Neptune Trojan that trails behind Neptune in Neptune’s orbit as well as several dwarf planets that reside beyond Neptune.  The asteroid 17898 Scottsheppard as well as two comets Sheppard-Trujillo and Sheppard-Tholen are named after him. Sheppard was lead discoverer of the object with the most distant orbit known in the solar system, 2012 VP113.  In 2014, Sheppard along with colleague Chad Trujillo noticed all the extremely distant small bodies have similar orbits.  From this observation, he predicts a Super-Earth mass planet likely exists in our solar system some ten times further out than Pluto and it is shepherding these extremely distant smaller objects into their similar orbits.