A mysterious comet is entering our solar system for the first time

Every now and then, astronomers discover something in the cosmos that has never been seen before. Such was the case recently when scientists discovered a new object which has only recently been confirmed to be a comet. The new comet is called Bernardinelli-Bernstein, and astronomers investigating the object have determined it has an orbit that takes 5.5 million years to complete.

It comes from the Oort Cloud and was officially designated as a comet on Wednesday, June 23. That designation came a week after it was first observed as a tiny moving dot in images archived by the Dark Energy Camera. The official name is Comet C/2014 UN271, and it was named after its discoverers giving it the easier Bernardinelli-Bernstein name.

So far, scientists have learned some interesting information about the comet, which is believed to be 62 miles wide. It's currently 20 times the Earth-sun distance from us. It will reach its closest point to the sun on January 23, 2031. At that point, it will be just beyond the orbit of Saturn, putting it about 10.95 solar distances from Earth.

Astronomers are excited because they have about two decades to study the comet before it disappears for another 5.5 million years. The comet is expected to be near-pristine, and astronomers from around the world will be ready to observe it. Its orbit is vertical to the plane of the planets, and at its furthest point from Earth, it's about a light-year from the sun.

Scientists believe the comet and others from the Oort Cloud were probably once part of the solar system but were kicked out by gravitational interactions with larger planets such as Saturn and Neptune. This is likely the first time the comet has been back in the inner solar system since it was booted long, long ago.