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Astronomers have discovered a new colossal object that is bigger than a comet slowly approaching the Solar System

Comets are the frozen leftovers from the formation of the solar system, the characteristics of a comet can be described as an object in space that looks like a bright star with a tail and that moves around the sun. Comets have always been a matter of interest for scientists and astronomers as they hold clues about the formation of the universe. In the past decade, astronomers have discovered a new colossal object that is bigger than any other comet on the outskirts of the Solar System and it is slowly approaching it.

Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein was first observed in the year 2014 by the Dark Energy Survey and was named "2014 UN271". Estimated to be between 100 to 370 kilometres in width astronomers and scientists considered it to be a dwarf planet at first has now been classified as a comet. The comet orbiting around the sun at a much greater distance as compared to Neptune, the eighth and final planet in our solar system, hence the comet was originally termed as a trans-Neptunian Object or TNO.


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However, on 22 June 2021, Tim Lister at the Las Cumbres Observatory in Sutherland, Luca Buzzi at the SkyGems reported the Cometary activity from the "dwarf planet". The planet had changed over the years and has developed the iconic features of a comet i.e. a "tail" and a coma the stream of dust and gas as the surface evaporates due to the heat and radiation as a comet approaches the sun. The status of the colossal object was changed from a dwarf planet to a comet in an official statement on June 23 it said, "The comet is now known as Comet C/2014 UN271, or Bernardinelli-Bernstein after its discoverers, Pedro Bernardinelli, University of Pennsylvania graduate student and astronomer Gary Bernstein."

"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," Bernstein said in a June 25 statement from the National Science Foundation's National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, or NOIRLab.

C/2014 UN271 location near the Solar System Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein takes approximately 5.5 million years to complete its one orbit. NASA JPL

As reported on 14 September, The Las Cumbres Observatory detected an outburst of 2014 C/UN271 on 9 September 2021. The comet brightened by 0.65 magnitudes compared to images taken earlier that day. At the time, the comet was 19.89 Astronomical Units (3.0 billion km) from the Sun and 19.44 Astronomical Units (2.9 billion km) from Earth. Astronomers believe comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein originated from the Oort Cloud which is a very distant region of space thought to be like a bubble enveloping our solar system made up of trillions of pieces of icy space debris and that it has always been in our solar system. The comet orbit around the sun and as per the calculations of the Minor Planet Center it takes approximately 5.5 million years to complete its one orbit.

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The comet is approaching the Sun at a distance between 19 Astronomical Units (2.8 billion km) and 21 Astronomical Units (3.1 billion km) and will reach its perihelion (the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid or comet that is nearest to the sun.) of 10.9 Astronomical Units which is just outside of Saturn's orbit in January 2031. This will be the closest it will get to the Earth, then it will move back out to the distant regions of our solar system. Even though it will be in our solar system it will be about a billion miles from Earth at that point.


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