An international team of scientists has just confirmed the discovery of the largest comet to date. baptized as C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein for friends), was observed by chance in 2010when Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein they were studying images from the archives of the Dark Energy Investigation at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. They suspected they were up against something big, so they decided to analyze it further using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). He pointed out that its nucleus was about 130 kilometers wide, a third larger than the one that previously held the record for the largest comet, however, more precise observations had to be made with the space telescope. Hubble to verify that, indeed, he is worthy of registration.
But that does not mean that it is the biggest comet that exists, far from it. In fact, as those responsible for the discovery explained in a NASA statement, this should only be the tip of the iceberg. There must be many other large comets that have not been seen because they are too far from the detection limit of our telescopes. Now that we have increasingly powerful instruments (welcome James Webb), many more may start to appear.
But step by step. They are currently in charge of characterizing comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein with the help of the Hubble and I found out some very interesting things about him.
The journey of this comet began in the oort cloud, a region on the outskirts of the solar system where many other comets actually originate. From there he heads under the sun at a speed of 35,400 kilometers per hour. Although, according to the calculations of its trajectory, it will not approach him that 10.9 AU. This rapprochement will take place in 2031 and there is nothing to fear. After all, the astronomical unit (AU) equals the distance between the Earth and the Sun, so we are talking about staying very far from the royal star.
Precisely because of the distance that also separates it from our planet, its initial detection would have been complicated if the appropriate instruments had not been available. In fact, if it was first suspected that it could be a very large comet, it is because a very intense shine despite its distance. So that was it. Hubble’s latest measurements have shown that its core is around 50 times bigger than those of most known comets. Moreover, it has a mass of 500 billion tons. That is to say, it weighs a hundred thousand times more than typical comets, much closer to the Sun. But how did they get this data? The truth is that, given its remoteness, it was not easy at all.
Computer models to facilitate the task at Hubble
The greatest difficulty in measuring this comet was that it is currently too distant for its nucleus to be resolved visually by the Hubble. It detected only one very bright peak of light where the kernel should be.
But yes, I could catch the eat of the comet. It’s the cloud of dust and gas which surrounds it. Therefore, they created a computer model of the comma and they adjusted it to fit Hubble images. Later, according to NASA in its release, the coma luminosity was subtracted, to leave naked the core.
The result obtained confirms what was already suspected at the time with ALMA. The only big difference is that the core seems to be darker than expected, but there is no doubt with your suspicions about the size. It is the largest comet detected so far. We’ll see how long it lasts at the top of the ranking.
And it is that the discovery of this comet is “an invaluable clue to the size distribution of comets in the oort cloud and therefore its total mass. There must be many more like him and it’s exciting as it continues to prove that something astronomers have only been assuming appears to be true. Since Jan Oort first raised the existence of this cloud in 1950, it was only suspected that he was right. However, it could not be proven, as its inhabitants would be too weak and distant to be found. have already reached hunt to one and it’s quite a colossus. Will the others be even bigger?