Hubble reveals 80-mile-wide ‘mega comet’ in our solar system is largest ever discovered
ASTRONOMERS have confirmed the discovery of the largest comet on record – and it’s getting closer.
The space object C / 2014 UN271 was spotted last year and the observations of the Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed this week the size of its core.
It’s solid, central part of the comet composed of rock, dust and ice that is separated from the trailing tail.
Nasa said Tuesday that C/2014’s core is about 80 miles in diameter, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island.
It is about 50 times larger than the core of most known comets, with an estimated mass of 500 trillion tons.
“The giant comet is hurtling in this direction at 22,000 miles per hour from the edge of the solar system,” NASA wrote on its website.
“But don’t worry. It will never come within a billion miles of the Sun, which is slightly further than the distance from the planet Saturn. And it won’t be until 2031.”
Comet C / 2014 was discovered by astronomers Bernardinelli Pedro and Gary Bernstein in archival images of Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
It has been observed for the first time in November 2010 when he was five billion kilometers from the Sun, is about as far from the star than Neptune.
Since then it has been intensively studied by terrestrial telescopes and space as he headed towards the inner solar system.
In the new analysis, a team led by David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, calculated the size of C/2014 in the highest resolution yet.
They improved previous estimates using the observations and modeling Hubble to isolate the core of the comet tail, or “coma”.
At 85 miles in diameter, it beat the previous record holder, a 60-mile-wide comet C/2002 VQ94.
It was discovered in 2002 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project.
“We confirm that C / 2014 UN271 is the largest long-period comet ever detected,” the team writes in their new document.
Observations of the comet, which is believed to have emerged from a layer of icy objects surrounding our Sun called the Oort Cloud, could tell us a thing or two about the early universe.
The Oort Cloud objects are thought to be among the oldest in our star system, but they are notoriously difficult to examine because they are so far away, far beyond Pluto.
“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for several thousand comets that are too faint to be seen in the most distant parts of the solar system,” Professor Jewitt said.
“We always suspected that this comet must be big because it’s so bright at such a great distance. Now we’re confirming that.”
The research has been published in Letters from the Astrophysical Journal.
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