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The largest comet nucleus ever seen is 135 km long – space and astronomy

With a diameter of about 135 kilometers and a mass estimated at 500,000 billion tons, it is the largest comet nucleus ever seen: black as coal, the nucleus of the massive comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (C/2014 UN271), officially recognized last summer and now on its way to the Sun. Confirmation comes from observations from the NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble Space Telescope, published in the astrophysical journal Letters.

To measure comet nuclei it was necessary to distinguish them from comas (Source: NASA, ESA, Man-To Hui – Macau University of Science and Technology, David Jewitt – UCLA, Alyssa Pagan – STScI)

Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (which will reach its closest point to the Sun in 2031 while remaining very far from Earth, beyond Saturn’s orbit) has a nucleus about 50 times larger than most known comets, while its mass is 100,000 times greater than a typical, closer comet to the sun. Says the study’s first author, Man-To Hui, who received a Ph.D. from UCLA and now works at the Macau University of Science and Technology in Macau.

The nucleus of Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein is 50 times larger than the nucleus of most known comets (Source: NASA, ESA, Zena Levy STScI)

“We thought the comet might be very large, but we needed the best data to confirm that.” So the researchers decided to use Hubble to take five pictures of the comet, last January 8: They then refined their analysis using radio observations of the European Southern Observatory’s ALMA telescope (ESO) in Chile. The comet is all in being able to tell it from the dusty foliage that surrounds it. The researchers did this thanks to a computer model that made it possible to subtract the coma of the comet to detect the subtle glow of the nucleus.

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