Special Reviews

The Kuiper Belt and the Solar System's Comet Disk

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Science  07 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5706, pp. 71-75
DOI: 10.1126/science.1100553

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Abstract

Our planetary system is embedded in a small-body disk of asteroids and comets, vestigial remnants of the original planetesimal population that formed the planets. Once formed, those planets dispersed most of the remaining small bodies. Outside of Neptune, this process has left our Kuiper belt and built the Oort cloud, as well as emplacing comets into several other identifiable structures. The orbits in these structures indicate that our outer solar system's comet disk was shaped by a variety of different physical processes, which teach us about how the giant planets formed. Recent work has shown that the scattered disk is the most likely source of short-period comets. Moreover, a growing body of evidence indicates that the sculpting of the Kuiper belt region may have involved large-scale planetary migration, the presence of other rogue planetary objects in the disk, and/or the close passage of other stars in the Sun's birth cluster.

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