A huge “megacomet” is more than 80 miles wide and has a staggering 500 trillion tons, NASAThis was revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The comet, named C / 2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein), was first discovered in 2010, but its dimensions have only been confirmed today.
Its core – the solid center of the comet – is about 50 times larger than the core of the best-known comets and is the largest that NASA has ever seen.
Although the comet is currently less than two billion miles from the sun and is heading towards Earth, fortunately NASA reassures that it poses no threat to us.
“It will never come closer than 1 billion miles away from the Sun, which is slightly farther than the planet Saturn. And it won’t be until the year 2031,” NASA said.
A huge “megacomet” is more than 80 miles wide and has a staggering mass of 500 trillion tons, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has revealed.
The comet, named C / 2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein), was first discovered in 2010, but its dimensions have only been confirmed today (artist’s impression)
Comet C / 2014 UN271 (Ambra Bernardinelli)
Year of discovery: 2010
radius of the core: 80 miles
size: 500 trillion tons
Distance from the Sun: Less than two billion miles
speed: 22,000 mph
Temp: -348 ° F (-193 ° C)
At 80 miles in diameter, the core is larger than the state of Rhode Island and nearly as wide as Wales.
And with an estimated mass of 500 trillion tons, Bernardinelli-Bernstein is about 100,000 times more massive than typical comets that are much closer to the sun.
“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for many thousands of comets that are too faint to be seen in the farthest reaches of the solar system,” said Professor David Jewitt, co-author of the study.
‘We always suspected that this comet must be large because it is so bright at such a great distance. Now we confirm that it is.’
The huge comet is currently traversing space at 22,000 miles per hour and is an “extraordinary object, considering how active it is when it is still so far from the Sun,” according to Man-To Hui, the study’s lead author.
“We thought the comet might be quite large, but we needed the best data to confirm that,” he added.
To verify its size, the team used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to take five photos of the comet on January 8, 2022.
At 80 miles in diameter, the core is larger than the state of Rhode Island and nearly as wide as Wales. In the photo, how the comet’s nucleus compares with the previous larger comets
Using a computer model, the researchers could differentiate between the comet’s solid core and the dusty coma surrounding it and suggest that the core is even darker than previously thought.
“It’s big and it’s blacker than coal,” said Professor Jewitt.
The comet follows an elliptical orbit three million years long and is now less than two billion miles from the sun.
At that distance, temperatures are around -348 ° F (-193 ° C), according to NASA.
Researchers believe the comet likely originated in the Oort Cloud, the furthest region of our solar system, where trillions of comets are thought to be.
Images of comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein from 2018 and 2020, showing coma with an “asymmetry towards the sun”
Although it was first hypothesized more than 70 years ago, the Oort Cloud still remains a theory.
This is because the comets thought to make it up are too faint to be observed directly.
The team hopes that the discovery of such a large comet will help shed light on the mysterious Oort Cloud.
“The reality of the Oort Cloud is reinforced by theoretical models of the formation and evolution of the solar system,” added NASA.
“The more observational evidence that can be gleaned through deep-sky surveys coupled with multi-wavelength observations, the better astronomers will understand the role of the Oort Cloud in the evolution of the solar system.”
WHAT IS OORT CLOUD?
The Oort Cloud is a vast and mysterious region thought to surround our solar system.
It contains trillions of comets left over from the birth of the universe – and possibly even larger objects like dwarf planets.
It begins about 0.08 light-years from the Sun – 170 times the orbit of Neptune – and extends to about 0.8 light-years.
The Oort Cloud (illustrated) is a vast and mysterious region thought to surround our solar system. It contains trillions of comets left over from the birth of the universe and possibly even larger objects such as dwarf planets
Occasionally, comets from the region make their way into the solar system, known as long-period comets.
One of the most famous this year was Comet Siding Spring, which touched Mars on October 19, 2014.
However, aside from these brief visitors, not much is known about the Oort cloud.
It has never been observed directly and it is not known exactly how large it is, although it is thought to define the gravitational influence of the sun.