The University of Pennsylvania astronomers found the enormous Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet (also known as C/2014 UN271) last year. “Megacomet” quickly became the name given to the comet after its discovery by the researchers, who referred to it as the “almost spherical cow of comets” in their article.
Even though the mega comet was no longer in the headlines, NASA researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope to study it and were astounded by its size. More than 80 miles across, according to a new report released in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on Tuesday, is the nucleus of comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein. This is the biggest comet ever seen, outstripping all previous records by a factor of almost 50.
Even with Hubble’s images, scientists still had a lot of work to do to determine the object’s exact size. Megacomet is still a long way off, after all. So the scientists had to analyze Hubble photographs of the comet in a computer model, which gave them an estimate of its mass. The Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet has been confirmed as the largest ever found by astronomers. C/2002 VQ94, with a nucleus just 60 miles wide, held the previous best.
When the mega comet crosses our solar system in 2031, we’ll have to put up with it for a while. Because it will be traveling between Saturn and Uranus, it won’t come much closer to the sun than a billion miles away, which is good news for us. When the Earth was formed by the collision of two space rocks some 4.6 billion years ago, a lot of these comets ended up on our planet. Actually, the mega comet has been traveling an elliptical path for 3 million years.
For the first time in nine years, astronomers will be able to examine an object that may yet retain vestiges of the solar system’s early days.
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