There’s a surprising guest in the Solar System: it’s giant comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein 2014 UN271, just discovered by Penn State University astronomers in images collected between 2014 and 2018 by the Chilean Dark Energy Survey telescope. The diameter of this celestial body is estimated to be about 100 kilometers, and it can be two or three times larger than Comet Hale-Bopp, the famous record-breaking comet that lit up the sky in the 1990s. According to the calculations of experts, 2014 UN271 will reach its closest point to Earth in 2031, but since it will remain outside the orbit of Saturn, it will be too far away to be observed with the naked eye and its brightness will be similar to that. Charon, one of Pluto’s moons.
In addition to its extremely large size, what most amazes this comet is its extremely elongated orbit, which extends from the circumference of Saturn to a distance of about light-years in the so-called Oort cloud, the cradle of comets and asteroids on the edges of the Solar System. At its farthest point in orbit, 2014 UN271 barely feels the Sun’s gravity. It takes about 612,190 years to complete one revolution around our star. Since it is already entering the solar system, astronomers can study it for another ten years.
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