In 1950, Dutch astronomer Jan Oort proposed that certain comets come from a vast, extremely distant, spherical shell of icy bodies surrounding the solar system. This giant swarm of objects is now named the Oort Cloud, occupying space at a distance between 5,000 and 100,000 astronomical units. (One astronomical unit, or AU, is the mean distance of Earth from the sun: about 150 million km or 93 million miles.) The outer extent of the Oort Cloud is considered to be the "edge" of our solar system, where the sun's physical and gravitational influence ends.
The Oort Cloud probably contains 0.1 to 2 trillion icy bodies in solar orbit. Occasionally, giant molecular clouds, stars passing nearby, or tidal interactions with the Milky Way's disc disturb the orbit of one of these bodies in the outer region of the Oort Cloud, causing the object to streak into the inner solar system as a so-called long-period comet. These comets have very large, eccentric orbits and have been observed in the inner solar system only once.