Hubble telescope finds largest comet ever discovered

Hubble telescope finds largest comet ever discovered thumbnail

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Expert stresses the importance of monitoring comets and asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth 02: 42

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

The gigantic comet could be “as big as 85 miles across” and was 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 Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The findings were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on Tuesday.

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

His team used the Hubble to take five photos on January 8 and was able to capture a “bright spike of light” at the location of the comet’s nucleus. They were able to estimate its size using radio telescope data.

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The left photo shows the picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The surface brightness profile from the left image was used to create the coma. The coma was subtracted, and it revealed the nucleus in 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 is traveling 22,000 miles per hour from the end of the solar system and is now less than 2 billion miles from the sun, NASA said. But scientists said it will never get closer to the sun than 1 billion miles and it won’t get there until 2031.

David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, was a co-author in the study. In the news release, he said that the discovery of the comet could indicate more to come.

“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,” Jewiitt said. “We have always suspected that this comet was large because it is so bright at such great distances. We now know for certain that it is. “

The comet was first observed in 2010 when it was 3 billion miles from the sun, NASA said. NASA claims that the comet has been moving toward the sun for over 1 million years. It is coming from the Oort Cloud, a theoretical nesting place for trillions of comets. It is estimated that NASA’s Voyager spacecraft won’t reach the Oort Cloud for another 300 years and could take as long as 30,000 years to pass it, NASA said.—-

Christopher Brito

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Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for CBS News, focusing on sports and stories that involve issues of race and culture.

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