Largest Comet to Date Approaching the Sun

Image (Credit): Comparison of comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) to several other comets. (NASA, ESA, Zena Levy (STScI))

A monster comet that takes 3 million years to circle the Sun is being closely analyzed by astronomers. The comet, C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein), will come closest to the Sun in 2031, but even then it will be about 1 billion miles away. At the most distant point in its orbit, the comet is about half a light year away from the Sun.

As shown in the graphic above, this is a large comet that could fully cover the state of Rhode Island. It was first detected by astronomers back in November 2010, when it was still 3 billion miles from the Sun. With the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, the astronomers were able to learn more about it this year.

The comet is believed to be a product of the Oort Cloud circling far outside our solar system. Of course, the Oort Cloud itself is a theory that has never been directly observed. But what about the Voyager spacecraft that left our solar system? Well, if you are willing to wait another 300 years, and the spacecraft are still working, you may have an answer.

You can read more about the comet at this NASA site.