At about 129 kilometers in circumference, the nucleus of comet C/2014 UN271, also known as Bernardinelli-Bernstein, is the largest ever observed by the US aerospace agency Nasa, the agency said.
Images from the Hubble telescope have confirmed the dimensions of the comet’s icy core, which is 50 times larger than what is generally found in space. The estimated mass of Bernardinelli-Bernstein is 500 trillion tonnes – 100,000 times greater than the mass of typical comets orbiting the Solar System.
The path speed of C/2014 UN271 is 35,400 kilometers per hour, but the comet’s path presents no danger of collision. The point of closest proximity to Earth is expected to happen in 2031, when the comet will be about 1.6 billion kilometers away from the Sun – a distance equivalent to that of the planet Saturn.
Watch the NASA simulation:
“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for thousands of comets that are too faint to be seen in distant parts of the Solar System,” said David Jewitt, professor of Planetary Science and Astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), for to NASA. “We always suspected that this comet must have been large because of the intensity of the glow. Now we confirm,” said the professor.
Megacomet C/2014 UN271 was discovered by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein in archival images from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The first observation took place in 2010, when the comet was 4.8 billion kilometers away from the Sun – roughly the same distance as Neptune. Since then, the megacomet has been studied and monitored by space telescopes.