An illustration of what the monster comet might look like in the outer solar system.
NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / J. da Silva
Earlier this yearin the solar system while combing the data collected by the Dark Energy Survey. Now, a new study, led by the same scientists, describes this beefy space monster as an “almost spherical cometary cow”.
The comet is cataloged as Comet C / 2014 UN271, but is also known as Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein for its explorer duo Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein, both from the University of Pennsylvania.
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Early estimates put the comet 200 kilometers wide, but the study, which was submitted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and a draft published Monday on the preprint repository arXiv, puts the likely diameter closer to 93 miles ( 150km). That size still implies 10 times the mass of Comet Hale-Bopp, which became known as the 1997 Great Comet.
Astronomer Will Gater has compiled a number of illustrations of other notable objects in the solar system to give a measure of how big this super-space snowball really is.
Some people may be most surprised to learn that this mega-comet is much larger than the largest moon on Mars. In fact, one could place Mars’s two natural satellites, Phobos and Deimos, lengthwise, and Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein would still be twice the size of the pair.
This giant comet poses no threat of colliding with Earth and sending the dinosaurs all the way to us, but it is currently moving into the inner solar system and will make its next flyby of the Sun in 2031, according to astronomers in the coming decade. In fact, it has already started to flaunt itself a little: earlier this month the Las Cumbres Observatory reported an apparent outbreak and an increase in brightness.
It is time to pronounce the tongue twister Bernardinelli amber because we will hear this name again in the years to come.