Scientists see better Bernardinelli-Bernstein, the largest comet ever discovered, as it slowly returns to the solar system after 3.5 million years.
The comet, officially designated C / 2014 UN271 and discovered in 2021 by Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein, could reach 160 kilometers in diameter, making it much larger than any other comet we have discovered. In fact, when it was first discovered, astronomers mistaken it for a small dwarf planet or similar trans-Neptunian object.
And, although some more recent observations suggest that it may not be as large, it has already caused a tail to sprout, even as it is as far from the sun as Neptune, making it the farthest a comet ever seen.
The comet poses no threat to Earth and its perihelion, its closest approach to the sun, will be about 11 AU, or 11 times the Earth’s distance from the Earth. our star. This will place it just out of Saturn’s orbit as it approaches 2031.
The comet is believed to have entered the inner solar system only once before, making it an especially “young” comet in that sense, as it still has a large amount of icy material. “It’s very rare to see large comets basically because unless you’re capturing it in its first or second passage, most of its material would no longer exist,” Bernardinelli said.