The comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein, depicted in this illustration, is estimated to be about 1,000 times more massive than a typical comet. ILLUSTRATION BY NOIRLAB, NSF, AURA, J. DA SILVA (SPACEENGINE) SCIENCENEWS
One of the largest comets ever seen is headed our way
Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein offers a rare opportunity for a generation of astronomers to study an object from the extreme edges of the solar system.
BY MICHAEL GRESHKO
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 29, 2021
More than 2.7 billion miles from the sun29 times farther than Earth treadsa tiny sliver of sunlight reflected off something plummeting toward our home star. Something icy. Something unimaginably old. Something big.
About four hours later, in the predawn hours of October 20, 2014, a telescope in Chiles Atacama Desert turned its gaze toward the heavens and snapped an enormous picture of the southern night sky, capturing hints of this reflected light.
However, it would take nearly seven years for researchers to identify that strange dot of light as a huge primordial cometpossibly the biggest ever studied with modern telescopes. Called Bernardinelli- Bernstein, the comet was announced in June, and researchers have now compiled everything they know about it in a discovery paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
My phone didnt stop ringingI wasnt expecting the reception the [scientific] community gave to the discovery, says Pedro Bernardinelli, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington. He co-discovered the comet during the final weeks of his Ph.D. research at the University of Pennsylvania with his then-adviser Gary Bernstein. Overall, its been pretty overwhelming.
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