A gigantic comet was originally mistaken for a dwarf planet

Shane McGlaun - Oct 1, 2021, 7:08am CDT
A gigantic comet was originally mistaken for a dwarf planet

Astronomers believe they may have discovered the largest comet in history. The massive comet is called Bernardinelli-Bernstein after its discoverers. It’s so massive that when initially discovered, astronomers mistook it for a dwarf planet.

The massive comet is on an inward-bound trajectory from the outer solar system. While a gigantic comet coming towards Earth from the outer solar system could be terrifying, astronomers are clear that it poses no threat to the Earth at this time. It will approach no closer to the Sun than just outside the orbit of Saturn.

While that is a vast distance from us, it’s very close on a cosmic scale and provides researchers with an opportunity to investigate a pristine comet from the Oort Cloud. Studying pristine objects such as this helps scientists learn more about the formation of our solar system. Astronomers believe the comet hasn’t visited the inner solar system in more than 3 million years.

Researchers investigating Bernardinelli-Bernstein are excited and call it a “new” comet. There is no evidence that it has approached closer than 18 au to the Sun since it was ejected into the Oort Cloud. Astronomers believe it may be the most pristine comet ever observed.

Researchers have determined that the comet began its inward journey towards Earth from a distance of 40,400 au from the Sun, putting it squarely in Oort Cloud territory. Objects in that region vary from around 2000 to 100,000 au away. It was discovered at a distance of about 29 astronomical units from the Sun. It is 96 miles in diameter, but it’s still much too far away to view with the naked eye despite its massive size. It is being studied via telescopes, and astronomers have spotted signs of a coma.


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