Astronomers have discovered that a massive object moving from the outer layers of the solar system will approach as close as Saturn’s orbit in the following decade.
The comet, also known as 2014 UN271, was initially found thanks to the Dark Energy Survey (DES) – an international collaboration beginning in 2013, listed as working at Chile’s Victor Blanco Telescope and founded with the target of mapping galaxies, identifying supernovae and other mysteries regarding dark energy, a subject that is very popular nowadays.
The discovery was made public on June 19, thanks to data from NASA’s MPECs (Minor Planet Center’s Minor Planet Electronic Circulars).
Scientists announced on social media that the hunk of rock and ice has an estimated diameter between 130 and 370 kilometres.
This is one of the tweets, presenting some of the approximation:
Interesting discovery: 2014 UN271- a 100 km object from DECam.
Perihelion 2031 Jan 28
a = 5416.99752 +/- 228 AU
e = 0.9979808 +/- 8.56e-5
Incl. 95.53003 +/- 0.00023
Period = 398692 years!
H = 7.8
q = 10.9377353 +/- 0.000814 AU
Q = 10823.0573 +/- 459 AU
— T. Marshall Eubanks (@TM_Eubanks) June 19, 2021
An image from the Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) published by University of Pennsylvania astronomer Pedro Bernrdinelly depicted a large, white, and pixelated blob, which he mentioned comprised multiple DES images shot between 2014 and 2018.
The estimated orbit of the comet got a few updates over the years, but it is particularly long, hundreds of billions of kilometres from the sun, at an estimated 600,000 years.
Sam Deen, a citizen astronomer, said that he has little doubt in his mind that, as the object gets closer to the sun, it begins showing the coma and tail that are usual to all objects seen in its orbit.