October 22, 2021

Beyond Going Long

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Megacomet – Very large, previously incorrectly identified as a dwarf planet! The weather channel is approaching our solar system

Artistic illustration of Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein wading through the Solar System.

(NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / J. da Silva (Space Engine))

Comets aren’t tiny, hazy stars with tiny, tail-like stars from down here on Earth. The average size comet, which is essentially a cosmic snow globe, is about 10 kilometers in diameter. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as the record-breaking Hale-Bopp, which was called the “Great Comet” in 1997 because it stretched for 30 km!

In 2014, two astronomers from the University of Pennsylvania, Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein, discovered a similar sphere. It appears to be much larger than the Great Comet, but its exact size has remained unclear. In fact, it was incorrectly identified as a dwarf planet, but was later reclassified as a comet because it showed signs of activity.

Now scientists from the International Dark Energy Survey Project have found that the new “megaometite”, called Comet C/2014 UN271, has a diameter of 160 km! Its mass is ten times greater than that of Hale-Bopp and is currently heading towards our solar system.

Will Gatter, an astronomer and science journalist from the United Kingdom, tweeted about C/2014 UN271:

The celestial giant, also known as Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein, named in honor of the astronomers who found it, is estimated to be about seven times larger than the Martian satellite Phobos. Astronomers believe that this mysterious object will pass through our planetary system at its closest point in ten years, in the year 2031.

Since the announcement of the theory of the destruction of dinosaurs by a meteor impact, humans have been wary of any large objects that could hit the Earth again. However, regarding this huge size, there is no reason for any nail biting.

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The image, taken by the Dark Energy Survey, shows Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein in October 2017.

(Prieskum tmavej energie / DOE / FNAL / DECam / CTIO / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / P. Bernardinelli & G. Bernstein (UPenn) / DESI Legacy Imaging Surveys. Po─Ćakovanie: Rektor TA (University of Alaska Anchorage / NSF’s) .my time (NOIRLab NSF).

Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein will be approximately 10.9 AU from the Sun (1 AU is the distance between the Sun and Earth). At this distance, it will likely cross the orbit of Saturn.

If you’re wondering where this massive comet comes from, scientists believe it comes from 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 real observations.

This comet will likely be fully exposed to astronomers in the next decade. Before approaching Saturn, scientists expect the comet to develop the classic characteristics of a comet, such as a tail and coma, in which matter on its surface evaporates due to the sun’s heat and radiation.


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