A colossal comet once mistaken for a dwarf planet is heading towards our solar system

Scientists get a better look at Bernardinelli-Bernstein, the largest comet ever discovered, as it slowly returns to the solar system after 3.5 million years.

The comet, officially designated C / 2014 UN271 and discovered in 2021 by Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein, could measure up to 160 km in diameter, making it much larger than any other comet we have discovered. In fact, when it was discovered, astronomers mistook it for a small dwarf planet or similar transneptunian object.

And while some more recent observations suggest that it may not be that big, it has grown a tail before, even though it is about as far from the sun as Neptune, making it the most comet. distant never seen.

As our colleagues at LiveScience point out, the comet poses no threat to Earth, and its perihelion, its closest approach to the sun will be about 11 AU, or 11 times the distance from Earth to our star. This will place it just outside of Saturn’s orbit when it makes its closest approach in 2031.

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The comet is believed to have only entered the Inner Solar System once before, making it a particularly “young” comet in this regard, as it still has much of its icy matter. “It’s very rare to see large comets in bulk, because unless you caught it on its first or second pass, most of its material would have already been gone,” Bernardinelli told Space.com.

Analysis: what the hell, here’s what would happen if it hit Earth!

While there is literally no chance of this comet approaching Earth, we here at TechToSee love to play with calculators and who doesn’t love a little doomsday scenario to start the month of October?

We did a quick job on the consequences of a Bernardinelli-Bernstein impact event with Earth, and while these calculations should by no means be taken as authoritative, here’s what we found. Assuming a density of 0.6 g per cubic centimeter (roughly that of comet Hale-Bopp), a speed of about 53 km / s (typical for a comet), and an impact angle of about 75 degrees from horizontal (the comet’s orbit is almost perpendicular to the ecliptic), well, let’s just say we’d be really in the game here on planet Earth.

The impact would release energy equivalent to roughly 440 times the energy released during the KT impact event that wiped out dinosaurs 65 million years ago, which in turn triggered an explosion of about 100 million megatons that created firestorms all over the planet.

The impactor itself would leave behind a crater about 540 miles / 874 km in diameter and just over 135 miles / 218 km deep, which is about 10 times deeper than the thickness of the earth’s crust. .

In every sense of the word, this comet would be an absolute planet killer if it hit Earth. Luckily he doesn’t come near us, so if you’ve got a powerful amateur telescope at home (or can get one in the next decade or so), enjoy the show as Bernardinelli-Bernstein tours back in 2031.

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