Stay calm, but scientists have discovered a “mega comet” is on a trajectory to pass through our solar system.
It’s hard not to panic when you hear that a giant comet is going to fly by, but rest assured the Bernardinelli-Bernstein is not predicted to make contact with our planet. However, it is making history.
What is the Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet?
Comet 2014 UN271 was first picked up in images taken for the Dark Energy survey between 2014 and 2018. It was officially named a comet because astronomers noticed it had grown a coma (that fuzzy aura surrounding the middle of a comet) in the past three years.
It was discovered by University of Pennsylvania astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein, hence it got a name change after its founders.
According to Earth Sky, the comet might be the largest ever discovered at an estimated 100 – 200 km in length.
This is 10 times the diameter of the average comet. For reference, the asteroid believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs was only 10km wide.
Bear in mind, the comet is still very far away in the images, so its real size could vary as it gets closer to our solar system.
That being said, this is a pretty big deal in the world of comets.
“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. It has not visited the Solar System in more than 3 million years.” Gary Bernstein said in a statement.
Will it hit us?
No. At its closest point to Earth Bernardinelli-Bernstein is expected to be at 11 AU, which is about Saturn’s average orbit from the sun. So it’ll miss Earth by quite a long shot.
These images give the names of the planets. pic.twitter.com/LVYOhOK8Nn
— Tony Dunn (@tony873004) June 23, 2021
The comet is on an unusual trajectory from the Oort Cloud towards the sun which it started roughly six trillion kilometers away.
The Oort cloud is believed to be a cloud of icy planetesimals – wich are solid objects formed from gas and dust – that exists on the very outer rim of the solar system.
When can you see the mega comet?
Mark your calendars because Bernardinelli-Bernstein is expected to reach its closest point to the Sun in 2031.
Despite this being quite possibly the largest comet ever recorded, at a distance of 11AU you still won’t be able to see it with your average telescope, and definitely not with the naked eye.
Although astronomers now have 10 years to prepare for the comet’s passing, so by 2031 we may have telescopes powerful enough to catch a glimpse of this beast.