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Oort cloud

The Oort cloud (sometimes called the Öpik-Oort Cloud) is a postulated cloud of comets situated about 50,000 to 100,000 AU from the sun (approximately 1000 times the distance from the Sun to Pluto). Although no direct observations have been made of such a cloud, it is believed to be the source of most or all comets entering the inner solar system (some short-period comets may come from the Kuiper belt), based on observations of the orbits of comets.

In 1932 Ernst Öpik, an Estonian astronomer, proposed that comets originate in an orbiting cloud situated at the outermost edge of the solar system. In 1950 the idea was revived and proposed by Dutch astronomer Jan Oort to explain an apparent contradiction: comets are destroyed by several passes through the inner solar system, yet if the comets we observe had existed since the origin of the solar system, all would have been destroyed by now. According to the theory, the Oort cloud contains millions of comet nuclei, which are stable because the sun's radiation is weak at their distance. The cloud provides a continual supply of new comets, replacing those that are destroyed.

The Oort cloud is a remnant of the original nebula that collapsed to form the sun and planets five billion years ago, and is loosely bound to the solar system. It is thought that other stars are likely to possess Oort clouds of their own, and that the outer edges of two nearby stars' Oort clouds may sometimes overlap, causing the occasional intrusion of a comet into the inner solar system.

The Solar System

Sun - Mercury - Venus - Earth - Mars - Asteroids - Jupiter - Saturn - Uranus - Neptune - Pluto - Comets - Kuiper belt - Oort cloud