New research revealed that a massive comet is barreling toward the inner solar system and will arrive approximately 10 years from now.
The Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet (also known as C/2014 UN271) is at least 62 miles (100 kilometers) across, making it 1,000 times more massive than a regular comet. According to a statement announcing the comet’s discovery in June 2021, it is so large that astronomers previously mistook it for a dwarf planet, New York Post reported.
The Earth is not threatened by the comet. It will approach closest to the sun in 2031, at a distance of 10.71 astronomical units (au), barely outside Saturn’s orbit.
However, a closer look showed that the object was speeding through the Oort cloud, billions of miles from Earth. Thus, the comet could be the largest object ever discovered, and it is the first comet on an arriving route to be discovered so far away.
The object appeared to be heading our way, with a bright tail, or “coma,” behind it, indicating that it was an icy comet approaching the relatively warm inner solar system.
While the comet will be too far away for humans to see without telescopes, but an orbit study revealed that it would be making a significantly closer approach to the sun on this trip. The study’s authors calculated that comet BB made its closest approach in the solar system 3.5 million years ago, coming within 18 AU of the sun.
Since then, the comet has gone as far as 40,000 AU away, deep into the mysterious Oort cloud.
“We have the privilege of having discovered perhaps the largest comet ever seen—or at least larger than any well-studied one—and caught it early enough for people to watch it evolve as it approaches and warms up,” said Bernstein.
Bernstein from the University of Pennsylvania co-discovered the comet with Pedro Bernardinelli.
“It has not visited the solar system in more than 3 million years,” Bernstein added.