Oort cloud, illustration

Oort cloud, illustration

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Credit: CLAUS LUNAU/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Oort cloud. Illustration showing the Oort cloud, a postulated cloud of comet nuclei surrounding the Solar System, with a quarter region of the sphere sectioned at left. The Oort cloud is thought to extend over a light year from the Sun (centre), up to a distance of about 100,000 astronomical units (AU). One AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, some 150 million kilometres. Near the Sun and planets it has the form of a disc in the plane of the planetary orbits (the ecliptic). Further out, it forms a spherical shell with relatively empty areas each side of the ecliptic (upper and lower centre). The existence of the Oort Cloud is inferred from the orbits of long-period comets that take millions of years to orbit the Sun. The bright horizontal band is the Kuiper Belt, a disc of asteroid-like bodies in the plane of the solar system.

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