By: April Carson
The comet is 100 times more massive than usual, and will pass by Earth in 2031. It is expected to be the brightest comet ever seen.
This unique event is made possible by the fact that the comet's nucleus, or "heart," is incredibly black. In fact, it reflects less than 3% of the light that hits it, making it one of the darkest objects in our solar system.
The icy heart of one of the planet's largest comets has been discovered by astronomers - a titanic, 4 billion-year-old rock that is hurtling toward Earth at 22,000 mph (35,000 km/h).
You shouldn't be concerned: When the enormous, icy rock known as C/2014 UN271, or Bernardinelli-Bernstein (BB) after its discoverers, comes closest to Earth in 2031, it will miss us by about 1 billion miles, according to Live Science. This is greater than the average distance between Saturn and the sun — and far enough away that stargazers won't be able to see BB's flyby with the naked eye.
Even so, the new comet is one of the most fascinating objects in our solar system. It is believed to be a "dirty snowball" — a comet composed of dust, water ice and other frozen materials. When the dirty snowball warms up as it approaches the sun, some of these materials vaporize and form a tail that can stretch millions of miles behind the comet.
Scientists are now taking the chance to study BB in greater depth because it is rapidly approaching Earth. However, as time goes on, they are seizing these chances to learn more about it. In fact, previous studies revealed that the icy space rock is almost 80 miles (128 kilometers) broad and weighs nearly 100 thousand times more than a typical comet. Because of its massive size, CB was once mistaken for a dwarf planet; new observations have shown that it has a luminous tail, or coma, which indicates that it is passing through the relatively chilly inner solar system.
The new observations, which were published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, reveal that the rock may be a blast from the past. While it is still too far away to be seen in clear detail, Hubble observations revealed a brilliant light spot that represented the comet's heart or nucleus, according to research published on April 12 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
To eliminate the comet's bright coma and reveal just the nucleus, the researchers utilized a computer model to digitally erase the glow. The data revealed that the comet's nucleus is 50 times larger than typical comets observed in the inner solar system — making it by far the biggest ever discovered.
The scientific method was used to analyze the probe's data, which revealed that the comet's icy nucleus is blue. The researchers believe the blue color is created when methane and carbon dioxide ices on the comet's surface are hit by sunlight.
The data also showed that the comet nucleus has a very low albedo, or reflectivity. In other words, it absorbs almost all the sunlight that hits it, making it appear "blacker than coal."
It's huge and blacker than coal, according to the study's co-author David Jewitt, a planetary science professor at UCLA.
BB, on the other hand, will survive until 2031 when it comes closer to Earth than it has been in more than 50 years. It's 3.2 billion kilometers (2 billion miles) from Earth right now, and that'll change gradually as we approach its close-up in 2031. The comet made its last near approach to Earth 3.5 million years ago, according to researchers who published a study in November 2021 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, when it came within around 1.6 billion miles (2.6 billion km) of the sun.
In the meantime, BB has been swooping through the Oort cloud — a vast scrapyard of icy rocks that encircles our solar system, potentially stretching for billions of miles into space. It's thought to be the source of most long-period comets, and astronomers have been keeping a close eye on any unusual objects that pop out of it.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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