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Hubble Telescope Discovers Biggest Comet Ever – And It’s Bigger Than Rhode Island

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found the largest comet ever discovered – larger than the state of Rhode Island – and it is in our solar system, the agency announced on Tuesday.

The gigantic comet could be “up to 85 miles across” and has been determined to be the size of the “largest icy comet nucleus” ever seen by astronomers, according to NASA. The comet, or “C/2014 UN271”, was discovered by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein at the Inter-American Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile. The results were published Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“It’s an amazing object, considering how active it is when it’s still so far from the Sun,” said study lead author Man-To Hui of Macau University of Science and Technology. , in a NASA press release. “We guessed the comet might be quite large, but we needed the best data to confirm that.”

His team used Hubble to take five photos on January 8 and were able to capture a “bright peak of light” at the location of the comet’s nucleus. Combined with data from the radio telescope, they were able to estimate the size of the gigantic comet.

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The photo on the left shows the photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The coma (middle panel) was obtained by fitting the surface brightness profile assembled from the left image. The coma was subtracted and it revealed the nucleus in the third photo (right).

SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, Man-To Hui (Macau University of Science and Technology), David Jewitt (UCLA) IMAGE PROCESSING: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)


The comet has been traveling 22,000 miles per hour since the end of the solar system and is now less than 2 billion miles from the sun, NASA said. But scientists said it would never approach the sun more than a billion miles away and would only get there in 2031.

David Jewitt, a professor of planetary sciences and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, was a co-author on the study. He said in the press release that the discovery of the comet could be a sign of more to come.

“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for several thousand comets that are too faint to be seen in the most distant parts of the solar system,” Jewiitt said. “We always suspected that this comet must be big because it is so bright at such a great distance. Now we confirm that it is.”

The comet was first observed in 2010 when it was 3 billion kilometers from the sun, NASA said. The agency says the comet has been heading for the sun for more than a million years and originated in the “Oort Cloud”, a theoretical nesting place for billions of comets. It is estimated that NASA Voyager spacecraft will not reach the Oort Cloud for 300 years and could take up to 30,000 years to cross, NASA said.——

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