Coming from the far reaches of the solar system, a huge comet is approaching Earth

Scientists have spent the past few years tracking down an exotic space rock called 2014 UN271, which many consider a massive comet. The object is currently approaching the Sun and is expected to reach the point closest to its spectacular eruption in 2031.

2014 UN271 is a comet identified in dark energy survey data taken between 2014 and 2018. Size estimates suggest it can be measured Between 100 and 370 km of diameter. If so, it would be one of the largest comets ever identified. The discovery is even more remarkable because the object comes to us from the limits of the solar system.

Comet from the Oort cloud

There are actually two types of comets. On the other hand, we have the so-called “short-range” (between 3 and 15 years) comets. Everything evolves around the sun in Kuiper belt حزام, a vast ring of small objects evolving outside orbit Neptune, to me Between 30 and 55 AU of the Sun. Remember, one astronomical unit is equivalent to the distance between the Earth and the Sun, or just under 150 million kilometers.

Finally, we have the “long-lived” comets that initially seemed to have come out of “nowhere”, occasionally passing through the inner solar system before reaching deep space. Dutch astronomer Jan Oort finally calculated one day that there must be a giant ice cloud outside the Kuiper Belt between 5000 and 100000 AU From the sun where these things should form. This belt is the Oort Cloud. 2014 UN271 comes from the cloud, it’s still very mysterious.

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Artist’s impression of the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. credit: NASA

A journey that lasted more than 600,000 years

Being that this formation of objects is so distant, comets that formed in the interior therefore need hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to complete the journey from one orbit around the Sun. The thing that interests us today continues our star’s tour in 612,190 years. Fortunately, we will be able to witness its closest pass to Earth during this amazing revolution.

Currently, 2014 UN271 is located just under twenty-two astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. This means that the comet is indeed closer than Neptune located at 29.7 AU. According to estimates, you should get to the closest point in this massive round trip. in 2031, the year in which he will move Less than 10.9 AU from the sun. At this point, it will have almost reached orbit Saturn.

comet
A diagram of the 2014 orbital path UN271 which will make its closest path in 2031. Credits: Solar System Dynamics at JPL

Meanwhile, researchers expect 2014 UN271 to develop hairline (or coma) and tail characteristics for comets approaching the sun’s heat. This close-up will give astronomers an unprecedented look at this object born in a part of our system that is still very mysterious.

After passing through the plane of Saturn, the year 2014 UN271 will once again shoot towards the Oort cloud. We will not see her again.

Stan Shaw

<p class="sign">"Professional food nerd. Internet scholar. Typical bacon buff. Passionate creator."</p>

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