The largest comet ever discovered has been moving in the direction of the sun for more than a million years, and its gigantic scale sheds light on mysterious objects that make up the largest structures in the solar system.
In a new study, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed that the solid center of the giant comet C / 2014 UN271 (Bernardine-Bernstein) is the largest comet nucleus we have ever observed. It is 50 times larger than most comets known to us and almost 140 times wider.
However, such a huge size, or rather its apparent strangeness, can tell us much more about comets in our limited perception.
C / 2014 UN271 Comes from the Oort cloud – around the sun, from a giant spherical membrane in the farthest reaches of the solar system filled with icy objects. According to scientists, this zone extends to the next nearest stellar system, at least a quarter of the distance to the Alpha Centauri.
Really great, right? But the Oort cloud is so far away and so difficult to fix that, in essence, it is a giant hypothetical mystery. Nevertheless, astronomers consider it to be one of the largest structures in the solar system.
Once in a thousand, something emerges from the enormous mass of this distant solstice and travels towards the sun by the force of gravity.
C / 2014 UN271 is one such object, and it seems to tell us a great deal about the frozen primordial mass that forms in the Oort cloud. It is thought to have formed at the dawn of the solar system, inside it, and then pulled out due to the gravitational effects of giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn.
“This comet is just the tip of the iceberg; Many thousands of other comets must be overly faint and located in more distant parts of the solar system. We always doubted that this comet would be great, because even at such a distance it is so dazzling. “We can now confirm that,” said David Jevit, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley.
In the new analysis, Jevit and colleagues from Macau University of Science and Technology calculated the size of C / 2014 UN271 with the most accurate resolution to date. They did this through previous observations made by Hubble and estimates based on modeling the separation of a nucleus from a comet coma. A coma is a long tail of ice sublimated in a gas, followed by a comet.
“We confirm that C / 2014 UN271 is the largest long-lived comet ever discovered,” the researchers wrote in the publication.
The discovery of C / 2014 UN271 was reported to us last year after it was spotted in data collected by the Dark Energy Survey in 2014-2018. Subsequent analyzes revealed that, in fact, C / 2014 UN271 was still fixed in 2010.
The comet orbits the sun in an elliptical orbit of about 3 million years, and as its shape indicates, it has been slowly approaching the sun for more than a million years.
In 2031, it will approach the Sun at the closest point to its orbit, called the Perihelion. At this point, Bernardine-Bernstein will be at least 1.6 billion kilometers from the sun, from where it will go back again and start moving away from the sun.
This means that we have almost ten years for better observations to learn more about this comet before it disappears into space again.
The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Developed by Nasa.gov and ScienceAlert.