Comets aren’t tiny, misty stars with tiny tail-like stars from below here on Earth. A medium-sized comet, which is essentially a cosmic snowball, has a diameter of about 10 kilometers. But there are some exceptions to this rule, such as the record-breaking Hale-Bopp, which was dubbed the “Great Comet” in 1997 because it spans 30 km in diameter!
In 2014, two astronomers at the University of Pennsylvania, Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein, discovered a similar orb. It appears to be much larger than the Great Comet, but its exact size has remained unclear. In fact, it was initially misidentified as a dwarf planet, but was later reclassified as a comet after it showed signs of activity.
Now, scientists from the International Dark Energy Survey Project have determined that the new “megaometite”, called Comet C/2014 UN271, has a diameter of 160 km! Its mass is more than ten times that of Hale-Bopp, and it is currently heading toward our solar system.
Will Gater, an astronomer and science journalist from the UK, tweeted this about C/2014 UN271:
Also known as the Bernardinelli-Bernstein Comet, named in honor of the astronomers who found it, the celestial giant is estimated to be about seven times larger than the Phobos-Mars satellite. Astronomers believe this mysterious object will pass through our planetary system at its closest point a decade from now, in the year 2031.
Since the theory of dinosaurs being wiped out by a meteor strike was announced, humans have been wary of any large flying objects that might collide with Earth again. But there is no reason for any nail biting in regards to this huge size.
Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein will be approximately 10.9 AU (1 AU is the distance between the Sun and Earth) from the Sun. At this distance, it is likely to outpace Saturn’s orbit.
If you’re interested in knowing where this giant comet came from, researchers believe it originated in the nuvem d’orte, a fictional region that surrounds the ends of the solar system and is home to billions of comet-like objects. However, only circumstantial evidence suggests the existence of such a region due to the lack of actual observations.
In the next decade, this comet is likely to be fully exposed to astronomers. Before approaching Saturn, scientists expect that the comet will develop the classic characteristics of a comet, such as a tail and a coma, in which the material on its surface will evaporate due to the sun’s heat and radiation.
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