Massive, previously unidentified comet or small planet entering our solar system has been found by astronomers.
The new “mega-comet” has been given the name 2014 UN271 and is anticipated to circle Saturn in around ten years.
The enormous object might be anywhere from 60 and 230 miles across, according to early measurements. There is currently no information on whether it is mostly made of rock or ice.
According to Pedro Bernardinelli, head of the University of Pennsylvania team that identified the comet, “This is the greatest thing we’ve found.”
He continued by saying that although there are no records of it having been seen before, the object appears to be “extremely ancient.”
The researchers discovered the item by examining data from the Chilean Victor M. Blanco Telescope’s Dark Energy Survey.
They discovered 800 objects beyond Neptune’s orbit, but 2014 UN271 stood out due to its enormous size and direction towards the Sun.
The launching of a probe for a flyby of the giant comet is “technically do-able,” according to Mark McCaughrean of the European Space Agency, but such a mission would need to start in the next six or seven years to reach it in time.
While 2014 UN271 isn’t big enough to be categorized as a dwarf planet, Samantha Lawler of the University of Regina in Canada told New Scientist that it might potentially be a minor planet or “perhaps a gigantic comet.”
The image above was created with the one-meter Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) telescope, which is located in Sutherland, South Africa. (CREDIT: Bernstein-Berdinelli)
Objects of this nature have hardly ever been seen up close, she continued, adding, “Maybe it’ll be some utterly odd shape.” “I really hope it has rings,” you say.
2014 UN271 is currently categorized as a TNO, or a “trans-Neptunian object.”
Numerous objects of comparable size have since been discovered in the icy outer reaches of the Solar System, including Eris, which is larger than Pluto, Haumea, Albion, Makemake, and Gonggong. The first TNO, discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, was initially classified as a planet and given the name Pluto.
One TNO, designated 2002 TC302, has a sizable moon circling it quite closely.
According to José-Luis Ortiz of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain, “there are about 100 satellites previously detected orbiting TNOs, although all of them are rather far from their primary body.” “For an asteroid this huge, we are not aware of any other objects circling this closely.”