A super comet, considered the largest comet ever discovered, is hurtling towards Earth, and astronomers see it as an opportunity to understand more about the solar system.
The Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet, named after University of Pennsylvania astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein, was detected seven years ago. According to The Sun, it is estimated to be up to 100 miles wide, or nearly 12 times the size of Mount Everest.
In a paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters last month for publication, the two astronomers called it “the nearly spherical cow of comets.” It is so large that the pair mistook it for a dwarf planet before seeing its glowing tail.
Bernardinelli and Bernstein forecast the comet will arrive in the inner solar system in 2031 when it swings between Uranus and Saturn. However, it is not expected to threaten Earth.
The impressive comet is currently 29 astronomical units away from the Earth or about 29 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
According to Amy Mainzer, an astronomer and comet expert at the University of Arizona, the comet offers a very rare and unique prize for any scientist trying to piece together the solar system’s history.
“In essence, it’s a time machine,” Mainzer told The Daily Beast.
Bernardinelli also told the Daily Beast that the mega comet might provide unprecedented information about how the Earth and its multitudinous lives were born and evolved.
“The story told by the comet would tell us of what existed in the solar system billions of years ago,” the astronomer said. “We can use that to understand the things we see today elsewhere in the solar system.”
This comet is unique because its chemistry has not been altered substantially since its formation due to its size and distance from the Sun.
“It’s pristine. Not a lot has happened to this object since its formation in the early days of the solar system,” Bernardinelli said.
“We can think of it as a window into the past,” he added.