Scientists have discovered a giant comet in the Solar System, considered the largest and most primitive object of its kind ever studied with modern telescopes. Called the Bernardinelli-Bernstein (C/2014 UN271), it is 150 kilometers in diameter and a thousand times more massive than an ordinary comet — proportions based on the glow of its tail as it releases dust and gases as it travels through space.
Now, in a new work published in the arXiv.org preprint repository (article not reviewed by other scientists before publication), the researchers, including a Brazilian, have consolidated all their knowledge about the comet. The huge space object could be seen from Earth in 2031, when it should pass close to Saturn.
The article was submitted for publication by the scientific journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
It is believed that the comet may have formed around the same time that the planets in the Solar System emerged. Therefore, its study can bring more clues about the formation and evolution of our system. “My phone kept ringing — I didn’t expect the reception the [scientific] community gave to the discovery,” Brazilian scientist Pedro Bernardinelli (one of the researchers who names the comet) told National Geographic magazine.
Such features initially led astronomers to think that the body could be classified as a dwarf planet. Bernardinelli-Bernstein was first identified in 2014, when data from the Dark Energy Survey was analyzed — a project that ended in 2019 and focused on mapping the expansion of the Universe. However, after a series of image observations, in June of this year it was confirmed that it is actually a comet.