NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope calculated the size of the nucleus of a giant comet observed last year and it is the largest ever seen, spanning 80 miles – almost twice the width of Rhode Island – and weighing 500 trillion tons.
By comparison, most comets would be only a few miles wide and fit within a small town, but the massive discovery of comet C / 2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) boasts of a nucleus that is 50 times larger than most known comets and a mass that is equal to the Sun. 100,000 times more than a typical comet found nearby.
A former record holder discovered in 2002 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project, a nucleus was approximately 60 miles across.
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Despite being a standout for its size, the C / 2014 UN271 is probably still one of many. “This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for thousands of comets that are too obscure to see in more distant parts of the solar system,” said David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California. Angeles (UCLA). “We always suspected that this comet would have to be big because it is so bright at such a great distance. Now we have confirmed that it is.”
The 4-billion-year-old comet was first seen in archival images from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory’s Dark Energy Survey in November 2010 by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein. At that time, it was 3 billion miles away from the Sun, and although it is moving towards our Sun at a speed of 22,000 miles per hour, researchers say that it is a little farther away from Saturn, will never go more than one billion miles – and it will not be until 2031. Will not get there.
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The comet is believed to have originated from the Ort Cloud, forming an estimated nest of the trillion comets first theorized by Dutch astronomer Jan Ort in 1950, but the existence of clouds remains uncertain as comets cannot be directly observed.