Last year, news spread that scientists had discovered a huge internal comet called Bernardinelli-Bernstein. It was the most distant comet we have ever discovered. And it was Huge, So the big scientists at first thought it was a small planet. But it was so far away that all our pictures were still blurred. So, we were waiting. Now, NASA has confirmed that the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has lifted the object – and this is completely breaking all our predictions. Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein, or “BB” for short, is the largest comet ever recorded.
The ArXiv preprint from the discovery of the comet gave a low-end estimate of two trillion tons. For scale, it is 10 times the mass of Hell-Bop, and Hell-Bop became known as the Great Comet of 1997. But the comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein is an absolute unit. The thing has shattered our previous predictions. NASA has estimated the mass of the comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein 500 trillion tons.
And that’s not the only place we got it wrong. When we reported on Comet BB last year, we said it was twice the size of Forbes and Demos, which were arranged vertically from edge to end. But Bibi has lied to all of us. It is Large. The largest comet ever recorded was 80 kilometers wide. Comet Bibi is eighty years old Miles Wide
Despite its distance from Earth, Comet BB has already started showing a show. When we picked it up last year, it was throwing enough debris that we called it a “dirt zone.” Now it is close enough to the sun that the comet has begun to form a coma. But that fog of dirt and scattered light behind made the work of astronomers difficult.
“This is an amazing object, considering how active it is when it is still far away from the sun,” said Man-to-Hui, the lead author of a report detailing these recent observations. “We have estimated that the comet could be quite large, but we need the best data to confirm this.” So, Hui and colleagues waited until the comet was close enough to take a picture of Hubble.
The comet is still a long way from apparently resolving Hubble’s nucleus. Instead, Hubble’s CCD only shows us a “bright spike of light” where the nucleus should be. So, Hui and his team created a computer model of the surrounding coma and then adjusted it to match the Hubble images. Then, they subtract the luminosity of the coma, leaving only its “star-like” nucleus.
“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for thousands of comets that are too obscure to see in the more distant parts of the solar system,” said co-author David Jewitt, UCLA professor of astronomy and astronomy. “We did. “Because it’s so bright over such a long distance,” said Jewit. “Now we’re making sure.”
The initial brightness measurement has been confirmed
Measurements of comet composition have been found to be accurate. Professor Gary Bernstein – one of the names for the comet BB – said, “The measurements reported by Hui et al confirm our previous measurements from the body’s luminosity ground.”
“We measured its brightness before it went into a coma,” Bernstein told Extremetech. “After the coma is formed, the new result takes a picture with HST and tries to subtract the light from the coma to isolate the light from the comet’s nucleus.”
Comet BB is a long-lived comet that takes about three million years to complete one orbit. It probably came from the Ort Cloud, which is completely cool by itself, because we don’t know much about the Ort Cloud. However, this comet is also the largest orb cloud object identified by a long shot. This makes it a unique opportunity to examine our assumptions about what is happening on the silent outer side of the solar system. Sadly, even Voyager 1 or 2 will not be able to reach the Oort Cloud before they run out of fuel.
Far from home
Heliopause is the place where the solar wind loses its outward motion. In 2012 Voyager 1 flew through Heliopos and in 2018 Voyager 2 flew through the same boundary. Outside of Heliopus, the Ort Cloud is a spherical shell of ice, rock, and dust that surrounds the entire solar system. It has no right edge, because the gravitational effect of the sun ends here. Instead, they both fade, like the light of a headlight in a deep fog, into a large void of interstellar medium. Their pores mark the outer boundary where the Sun’s gravity gives way to the galactic tide.
We think that comets from other stars may have their own distant clouds. Alpha Centauri AB and Proxima Centauri will create their closest approach to us in about thirty thousand years. When they do, their Ort Cloud will be separated from us in the same wide range as our Ort Cloud.
Orb Cloud comets were probably not fully formed there. Instead, NASA explains, “these were launched billions of years ago by a gravitational ‘pinball game’ between giant planets outside the solar system, while the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn were still evolving.”
However, the planets are not the only thing capable of disturbing the distant clouds of the comet. When the Gliese 710 plays in our solar system for about 1.3 million years, it is expected to come within 20,000 AU of the Sun. This is close enough to poodle-stumping through the Ort Cloud. It won’t bother Pluto or the Sun, but it could send us a much longer comet.