A comet so immense in size that it was at first mistaken for a dwarf planet is rushing in an inward-bound trajectory from the outer area of our Solar System.
However, don’t worry, as C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein), as the comet is known, won’t get closer to the Sun than just outside Saturn’s orbit.
The large size and relative closeness of the object will grant scientists a unique chance of analyzing it. One of its particularities is that it originates from the Oort Cloud, which could help astronomers learn more data about the Solar System.
Gary Bernstein, from the University of Pennsylvania, the co-discoverer of the comet, stated:
“We have the privilege of having discovered perhaps the largest comet ever seen – or at least larger than any well-studied one – and caught it early enough for people to watch it evolve as it approaches and warms up. It has not visited the Solar System in more than 3 million years.”
Most of the outer region of our Solar System is mostly a mystery for us. It’s extremely far away from us and dark.
To make it even more complicated to analyze and study, the objects inside it are quite small, which makes it quite challenging to see what is going on farther than the orbit of Neptune.
Scientists have a general idea regarding the composites of that region of space, with the Kuiper Belt being made out of minuscule icy bodies, followed by the Oort Cloud at greater distances.
Still, precise details are way harder to detect and analyze.
The comet was observed by Bernstein and fellow University of Pennsylvania astronomer Pedro Bernardinelli.
They described the celestial body more accurately in a preprint paper that was accepted by The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“We conclude that C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) is a ‘new’ comet in the sense that there is no evidence for previous approach closer than 18 au to the Sun since ejection into the Oort Cloud,” wrote the researchers.