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The Oort cloud, alternatively termed the Öpik-Oort Cloud, is a postulated spherical cloud of comets situated about 50,000 to 100,000 AU from the Sun. This is approximately 1000 times the distance from the Sun to Pluto or roughly one light year, almost a quarter of the distance from the Sun to Proxima Centauri, the star nearest the Sun.

The Oort cloud would have its inner disk at the ecliptic from the Kuiper belt. 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[1] that comets originate in an orbiting cloud situated at the outermost edge of the solar system. In 1950 the idea was revived and proposed[2] by Dutch astronomer Jan Hendrick Oort to explain an apparent contradiction: comets are destroyed by several passes through the inner solar system, yet if the comets we observe had really existed for billions of years (since the generally accepted origin of the solar system), all would have been destroyed by now. According to the hypothesis, the Oort cloud contains millions of comet nuclei, which are stable because the sun's radiation is very weak at their distance. The cloud provides a continual supply of new comets, replacing those that are destroyed. It is believed that if the Oort cloud exists and supplies comets, in order for it to supply the necessary volume of comets, the total mass of comets in the Oort cloud must be many times that of Earth. Estimates range between five and one hundred (100) Earth masses.

The Oort cloud is thought to be 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. The most widely-accepted hypothesis of its formation is that the Oort cloud's objects initially formed much closer to the Sun as part of the same process that formed the planets and asteroids, but that gravitational interaction with young gas giants such as Jupiter ejected them into extremely long elliptical or parabolic orbits. This process also served to scatter the objects out of the ecliptic plane, explaining the cloud's spherical distribution. While on the distant outer regions of these orbits, gravitational interaction with nearby stars further modified their orbits to make them more circular.

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 star with the greatest possibility of perturbing the Oort cloud in the next 10 million years is Gliese 710.

Source: Wikipedia Encyclopedia
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