Research, Technology

Scientists have found the largest comet - it is 50 times larger than the rest

Comets are considered to be small cosmicobjects that fly around the sun in an elongated orbit. When they approach the star, a cloud of dust and gases forms around them, and sometimes a long tail stretches behind them. As of August 2021, science is aware of the existence of at least 6996 comets that happen in the inner region of the solar system. About eight years ago, scientists discovered a comet that was at a distance of 4.3 billion kilometers from the Sun - comets that far had not been seen before. Astronomers immediately realized that if a celestial body can be seen from such a great distance, then it must be of gigantic proportions. Recently, the NASA aerospace agency was finally able to confirm that this comet is the largest in the history of observations. It is called C/2014 UN271 and is also known as Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein.

Comet C/2014 UN271 is the largest comet on record


  • 1 Biggest comets in space
  • 2 Features of the comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein
  • 3 The record for the largest comet is officially broken
  • 4 Mystery of the Oort Cloud

The biggest comets in space

According to scientists, most of the known cometshave dimensions of no more than a few tens of meters. However, from time to time they find very large specimens. For example, comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) was discovered in April 1995. The next year after the discovery, it became visible even to the naked eye and remained bright for 18 months. Due to its properties, it has come to be considered the most observed comet of the 20th century. According to some calculations, the diameter of Comet Hale-Bopp is 80 kilometers.

Comet Hale-Bopp in a 1997 image

Remarkably, that scientists have seen bigger comets. For example, according to historical data, in 1729, astronomers saw the 100-kilometer comet Sarabat.

Features of the comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein

Be that as it may, comets Hale-Bopp and Sarabat -just tiny compared to Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (C/2014 UN271). It was discovered in 2014 by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein while studying archival photographs of space. In the first pictures, it looked like a tiny spot and was at a distance of 4.3 billion kilometers from the Sun, that is, it was as far away as the planet Neptune. The fact that the object was clearly visible from such a great distance hinted at its enormous size.

First image of Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (C/2014 UN271)

The record for the largest comet is officially broken

In the course of new scientific work, astronomers carefullystudied images of comet C/2014 UN271 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Thanks to the availability of high-resolution images, they were able to determine the edges of the comet's nucleus and separate it from the tail. It turned out that comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein is indeed the largest of its kind. The diameter of its core reaches 140 kilometers, which is 50 times (!) More than most known comets.

We have always suspected that this comet haslarge dimensions because it retains great brightness at such a great distance. Now we confirm that this is the case, the authors of the scientific work noted.

The sequence with which astronomers "cleaned" the comet from the gas cloud and tail

See also: The brightest comet of 2021 flew over the Earth

The Mystery of the Oort Cloud

Astronomers already know that comet C/2014 UN271hails from the Oort cloud - a region of the solar system, which is a giant spherical cluster of icy objects. Despite the fact that this region may be one of the largest structures in our planetary system, scientists still know little about it. The fact is that it is very far away, at a distance of 50,000 to 100,000 astronomical units, which equals almost one light year. In order to better understand this distance, here is another fact - the distance between the Oort cloud and the solar system is about a quarter of the distance to Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun.

Estimated view of the Oort cloud

Scientists hope that a huge cometBernardinelli-Bernstein will be able to tell more about the objects that fly inside the Oort Cloud. According to astronomer David Jewitt, this comet is the tip of an iceberg among many thousands of other similar objects that are too dim to be seen in the more distant parts of the solar system.

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According to scientists, comet BernardinelliBernstein has an orbit that gradually brings it closer to the Sun. It will be visible as best as possible in 2031, and scientists will have the opportunity to study it in detail.