Using the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers determined that the nucleus of Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (C/2014 UN271) is about 80 miles wide, making it the largest comet on record.
The estimated diameter is approximately 80 miles across, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. The nucleus is about 50 times larger than found at the heart of most known comets. Its mass is estimated to be a staggering 500 trillion tons, a hundred thousand times greater than the mass of a typical comet found much closer to the Sun.
The behemoth comet, C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) is barreling this way at 22,000 miles per hour from the edge of the solar system. But not to worry. It will never get closer than 1 billion miles away from the Sun, which is slightly farther than the distance of the planet Saturn. And that won’t be until the year 2031.
The previous record holder is comet C/2002 VQ94, with a nucleus estimated to be 60 miles across. It was discovered in 2002 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project.
This measurement does have a great deal of uncertainty, as Hubble cannot yet resolve the nucleus, and thus its diameter was determined by computer models based on the size of the comet’s coma, or surrounding atmosphere.
The comet itself has an orbit 3 million years long, which means it has zipped into the inner solar system many many times. The reason its nucleus remains so large is because its orbit never gets that close to the Sun, so its material does not get burned off so much with each perihelion. That it exists suggests there could be many such large comets which never dip close to the Sun.
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