A unique object is headed toward our Solar System. The object called 2014 UN271 (data recording started in 2014) appeared in the Dark Energy Survey collaboration on June 19, 2021 and is gaining popularity thanks to its extreme oddity. Information about this object appeared in the Minor Planet Electronic Cirulars, which generally includes “information on unusual minor planets and routine data on comets.”
As noted by Sam Deen on a Groups.IO post, the object spotted is “not just unusual, but radically exceptional among all known bodies in the Solar System to date.” The orbit of this object goes from “just beyond the orbit of Saturn all the way out to the Oort Cloud.”
Dr. Pedro Bernardineli posted a few more details to Twitter about the discovery of this object. It might seem odd that the data shown in the documentation of this object appears in 2014, but this was only announced here in 2021.
Below you’ll see a simulation from Tony Dunn showing the orbit of this space body, entering and exiting our Solar System – note the dates! It’s going to get real weird at around the year 2030 – and really close to us here on Earth!
As noted by Meg Schwamb, Planetary scientist & astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast, Rubin Observatory will monitor 2014 UN271 as part of a 10 year survey, monitoring the object “all the way to perihelion” and beyond. That’s the point at which the object gets closest to the sun, which physicist and VLBI radio astronomer T. Marshall Eubanks suggests will be January 28, 2031. The 10 year survey will begin at around “late 2023.”
Schwamb also noted that this space object is around 6.96% the size of Pluto. This means it’s not nearly large enough to be a dwarf planet – but it’s still no tiny rock to scoff at!
And, fun fact: If we take a peek at canonical Star Wars specifications with respect to books like Star Wars: Incredible Cross-Sections, we see that the first Death Star was around 120km in diameter, and the second Death Star was around 160km in diameter. In effect, the estimated size of 2014 UN271 is the same as the Death Star as seen in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
You can see the first documented movements of this object at The International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center. We’ll be watching this one as it gets ever-nearer to our planet and deeper into our Solar System over the next decade!