The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spotted the largest icy comet nucleus that astronomers have ever seen as it barrels towards the Earth at 22,000 miles (35,405 kilometers) per hour.
NASA estimates that the comet named C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) has a diameter of about 80 miles across, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island.
The nucleus of the comet is 50 times larger than found at the heart of most known comets and it weights about 500 trillion tons, NASA said on April 12.
According to NASA, the comet has been falling towards the sun for over one million years and is now less than two billion miles (3.21 billion kilometers) away from the sun.
The closest the comet will get is one billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) away from the sun, but that won’t be until 2031, NASA said.
The comet was first discovered by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile in November 2010 when it was three billion miles (4.8 billion kilometers) away from the sun.
NASA took five new photos of the comet on Jan. 8, 2022 using the Hubble Space Telescope.
“We’ve always suspected this comet had to be big because it is so bright at such a large distance. Now we confirm it is,” David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, said.
“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for many thousands of comets that are too faint to see in the more distant parts of the solar system,” Jewitt also said.
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