Institute of Space Telescope Science / Macau University of Science and Technology
NASA agency Hubble Space Telescope The existence of the largest icy comet nucleus ever confirmed by scientists. The C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) core is about 80 miles in diameter, larger than Rhode Island, NASA says.
The comet’s nucleus is about 50 times larger than most comets and its mass is estimated at 500 trillion tons.
“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg of several thousand comets that are too faint to be seen in the farthest parts of the Solar System,” David Jewett, professor of planetary sciences and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a statement.
“We have always suspected that this comet must be large because it is so bright at such a great distance. Now we confirm that it is,” Jewett added.
Comet C/2014 UN271 was first discovered by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein using archival images from the Cerro Tololo International Observatory in Chile. The comet has been observed since 2010, when it was 3 billion miles from the sun, and has been studied ever since.
NASA says there was a challenge measuring the comet’s nucleus, because it was too far from the Hubble telescope to determine its size. Instead, the scientists had to make a computer model that was modified to fit the bright-light images of the comet they obtained from the telescope data.
Despite traveling at 22,000 miles per hour, the massive comet is still coming from the edge of the solar system. But NASA maintains that it will never get closer than a billion miles from the sun — and even then, it won’t get any closer until 2031.
The previous record holder for the largest comet nucleus was discovered in 2002. Comet C/2002 VQ94 was about 60 miles wide.
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