Thanks to the Hubble telescope, NASA has just confirmed the imposing size of the largest comet ever discovered in space. It would approach our planet.
Comet C/2002 VQ94 (Linear) was the largest ever discovered, measuring 90 kilometers in diameter. Today, comet 2014 UN271 – also called Bernardinelli-Bernstein after its first observers – dethroned it thanks to observations with the Hubble telescope.
This comet was discovered in 2014, but at that time too far away from us, its exact size could not be determined. Observations with the Hubble Space Telescope have recently made an estimate possible.
This star is about 130 kilometers in diameter and has a core about 50 times larger than that of most known comets. Its weight is just as impressive, NASA speaks of 500 billion tons.
“Tip of the iceberg”
“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg of several thousand comets too faint to be seen in the farthest reaches of the solar system. We’ve always suspected that this comet must be big because it’s so bright at such a great distance. Now we confirm that this is the case,” said David Jewitt, professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California and co-author of the study, which appears in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
On the orbit of Saturn
It is certainly a gigantic celestial object whose current trajectory is heading towards our planet at 35,000 km/h. – a speed that is not so extraordinary in the interstellar vacuum, for example the International Space Station, with more than 28,000 km/h.
But the comet shouldn’t pass too close to our planet, even immediately. In fact, according to the scientists, “the comet will not come within a billion kilometers of the Sun, and that will not happen until 2031.” In January 2031 it would be on the edge of Saturn’s orbit. Once over, it should continue its journey to the “icy frontiers” of the solar system.
According to the authors of the research, Bernardinelli-Bernstein has already approached the Sun several times. Its next passage would be its second entry into the inner solar system. Suffice it to say that this visit would be considered a historic event.
Scientists currently believe the comet originated in the Oort Cloud, a—still hypothetical—place around the solar system that would be the origin of trillions of comets.