You may be familiar with the eight planets of the solar system and their famous companion, the dwarf planet Pluto. But this one, however far it might be, could only be a taste of what lies beyond, in a region called the Kuiper Belt.
As the animation at the end of the article suggests, dwarf planets could actually be 100 times or even 1,000 times more numerous than the eight known planets in our Solar System so far.
First posted to Reddit by user Nobilitie, the animation is actually taken from a physics-based simulation game. Each ring here represents an orbit of an object and all rings beyond the eight inner rings all belong to dwarf planets. These orbits are actually on a constantly updated list of candidate worlds maintained by Mike Brown, an astronomer at Caltech, California. We then see a striking difference between the ordered orbits of the giant planets and the randomness of the dwarf planets.
This list maintained by the astronomer sorts the objects detected in deep space according to the probability of their existence. Pluto, Eris, Ceres, Makemake, Haumea and five other dwarf planets meet the « near certainty » criteria. In other words, we are certain that they are not comets or other astronomical objects. Also according to Brown, 30 are « very likely » dwarf planets, 75 are « probably » and nearly 850 other objects are « probably » or « possibly » dwarf planets. Nearly half of the candidates are yet to be detected according to the astronomer, bringing their number to nearly 2,000.
He doesn’t think nuclear-powered spacecraft like New Horizons, which can last for decades, will still be able to study the Kuiper Belt and uncover most of those vanished worlds. The future of exploration will lie with the next generation of telescopes that will soon be commissioned.