New Zealand astronomers have benefited from jet lag: they were the first to detect the first signs of activity in the giant standard-size comet C/2014 UN271, also known as Bernardinelli-Bernstein.
They were able to observe and record a coma, or region of gas and dust, scattering around a megaloblastic, which can be a thousand times larger than a conventional comet. In addition, it is probably the largest comet found in history.
Check-in was on June 23 at 4:00am GMT, when it was already 5pm in New Zealand. The team monitoring the images captured by the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) is spread all over the world and the images were taken by one of the LCO telescopes located at the South African Astronomical Observatory.
“The other people were asleep,” Michelle Bannister, a member of the LCO team at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, said in a statement released on Wednesday (14).
However, Bannister initially believed that the new images were a failure, due to the problem of the spread of satellites passing through the field of view of telescopes. He revealed that “the first image was obscuring the comet by the path of the satellite, and my heart sank.” “But then the others were very bright, and there was certainly a nice misty speck, not at all as sharp as the neighboring stars,” the famous astronomer said.
What caught his eye was a foamy coma that appeared at an incredible distance from the sun. When the photo was taken, Bernardinelli Bernstein was about 19 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun (one AU is the average distance from Earth to the Sun – about 150 million km). This is nearly twice the orbital distance of Saturn from the Sun.
However, a comet has a lot of mass available for warming. The massive Bernardinelli-Bernstein nucleus is estimated to be more than 100 kilometers in diameter, three times the size of the next largest known comet nucleus – the nucleus of Hell-Bob, the famous naked-eyed comet that passed Earth in 1998.
Unfortunately for enthusiastic astronomers, Bernardinelli-Bernstein won’t get very close to our planet for observations.
The closest mega-measurement approach to the Sun after Saturn will still be in January 2031, with astronomers having a decade to plan for that vision.
with information from Espace.com
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