You can now buy the recently released book, Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors. It is available through iBooks and Amazon.
This website only lists information on modern-day comets and meteor showers. The book, however, thoroughly investigates how specific ancient impacts and near misses changed religious beliefs around the world.
What is the Kuiper Belt?
Definition of Kuiper Belt
As World War II raged, Irish astronomer Kenneth Edgeworth theorized that beyond Neptune small objects couldn’t coalesce into planets when the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago. Occasionally one of these icy objects is disturbed, enters the inner solar system and becomes a comet.
Exploded view of thousands of objects in the Kuiper Belt surrounded by hundreds of billions of comet nuclei in the Oort Cloud.
Credit: Don Yeomans/NASA/JPL illustration adapted by Kevin Curran
Eight years later, Gerard Kuiper also suggested a belt of icy objects lied beyond Neptune. It became popularly known as the Kuiper Belt or, less commonly, as the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt. Over one thousand objects in the Kuiper Belt objects have been detected since 1992.
Flash forward to today. The Kuiper Belt is considered a region in space stretching from 35 to 50 AU. One astronomical unit (“AU”) is the shorthand astronomers use to refer to the approximate mean distance between the Earth and the Sun. It sure beats writing 92,955,807 miles or 149,597,871 kilometers.
The Kuiper Belt is home to thousands of objects, including at least three dwarf planets—Pluto, Haumea and Makemake. The Belt consists of a stable inner ring and an unstable outer ring called the scattered disk. The scattered disk occasionally sends a comet into the inner solar system. These “short-period” comets take less than 200 years to orbit the Sun and usually do so in the same direction as the planets.
An example of a short-period comet would be Halley’s Comet (1P/Halley), which has an orbital period between 74 and 79 years. Some short-period comets, like Comet Tempel-1 and Comet Holmes (17P/Holmes), orbit the Sun in less than a decade. These two comets, and many others, were captured inside the inner solar system long ago.
Beyond the Kuiper Belt lies another comet-haven called the Oort Cloud.