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Space: The "largest comet of modern times" is heading towards our solar system

Space: The “largest comet of modern times” is heading towards our solar system

It comes from so far away that it remains a mystery, even to the most eminent scientists. However, it is assumed that Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein, or C/2014 UN27, decided to visit us. This celestial body was spotted in mid-June, and it follows a path it should take through our solar system.

The date of the meeting is not immediately set as C/2014 UN27 will reach its closest point to our sun in 2031. In the meantime, astronomers plan to keep their eyes on this giant comet coming from the cloud d’Oort, which surrounds the solar system.

This hard-to-understand ball of frozen bodies lies more than 40,000 astronomical units (AU) from the sun, which is 40,000 times greater than the distance between the Sun and Earth, according to the National Optical Astronomy Research Laboratory. From the American Science Foundation (NOIRLab).

So it’s a very long journey for a very large comet. In fact, astronomers agree that it is the greatest “discovery of the modern age.” A comet has previously been estimated to have a mass 1,000 times greater than an ordinary comet, between 100 and 200 kilometres.

Despite its impressive measurements, the C/2014 UN27 is not to be feared: it presents no danger to Earth. During its closest pass to the Sun, in the year 2031, it will remain too far away to be seen with the naked eye from the blue planet.

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‘Huge math problem’

But given the state-of-the-art equipment, the scientists won’t miss a thing from the show. Even if it was actually observed in 2014, this giant comet, with its unique composition and origin, presents a valuable opportunity to learn more, particularly about the composition and motion of celestial bodies.

Only to reveal its presence last June, astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein of the University of Pennsylvania had to study six years of accumulated data as part of the Dark Energy Survey (DES). This particular international program attempts to unravel the mystery of dark energy by mapping hundreds of millions of galaxies.

“The search itself took between 15 and 20 million processor hours, Pedro Bernardinelli identifies on Twitter. Finding trans-Neptune objects using DES is a huge computational problem.” Moreover, for several years, from 2014 to 2018, the images provided by DES did not allow the “tail” to be distinguished in the C/2014 UN27 configuration.

A characteristic component of comets, the latter is formed by evaporation, when these icy bodies approach the heat of the Sun. The hair or zombie of C / 2014 UN27 finally appeared on recent photos, which allowed him to be officially identified as a culprit. A crucial step in learning about this extraordinary celestial body that has yet to reveal all its secrets.