Also known as Comet C/2014 UN271, Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein is set to brighten as it approaches Earth in the coming years.
earlier this year,in the Solar System, combing through data collected by the Dark Energy Survey. Now, a new study led by the same scientists describes this muscular deep space monster as a “nearly spherical cow of a comet.”
The comet is cataloged as Comet C/2014 UN271, but is also known as Comet Bernardinelli–Bernstein for its discovery pair, Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein, both from the University of Pennsylvania.
Initial estimates put the comet at 125 miles (200 kilometers) wide, but the study, which was submitted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and posted Monday in draft form on the preprint repository arXiv, suggests a possible diameter of 93 miles. Keeps close (150 km). That size is still 10 times the mass of Comet Hale-Bopp, known as the Great Comet of 1997.
Astronomer Will Getter pulled together a bunch of pictures of other notable Solar System objects to provide some scale for how big this super space snowball really is.
What may surprise some people most to learn that this mega-comet is much larger than the largest moon of Mars. In fact, you could put both natural Mars satellites, Phobos and Deimos, side-by-side for a long time and Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein would still be twice the size of the pair.
This massive comet is in no danger of hitting Earth and sending us all the way to the dinosaurs, but it is currently heading into the inner Solar System and will pass closest to the Sun in 2031. It should outperform astronomers in the coming decade. In fact, it’s already starting to show itself a bit: an apparent explosion and increase in brightness were reported by the Las Cumbres Observatory earlier this month.
It’s time to practice saying Tongue Twister Bernardinelli-Bernstein because it’s a name we’ll be hearing again for years to come.