NASA will scrutinize this cosmic voyager to learn more about its origins, which likely trace back to the mysterious Oort Cloud.
NASA has just announced the discovery of a particularly remarkable celestial body: it is a gigantic comet from the outer reaches of the solar system. And the agency intends to get the worms out of this enormous interstellar traveler. The goal: to learn more about its origins and the beginnings of the solar system.
This comet, which has inherited the barbaric nickname of C/2014 UN271, is distinguished above all by its exceptional measurements. Hubble has confirmed that this comet originally identified by the CTIAO, in Chile, is in fact 85 miles long, or approximately 137 kilometers long ! Thus, he is a true giant who towers over all his peers. In fact, this object is approximately 50 times longer than average cometary nuclei generally observed by NASA. Numbers that just do the largest comet ever identified in the history of astronomy.
A mysterious cradle on the edge of the solar system
Aside from size, so far NASA hasn’t been able to collect much data on C/2014 UN271. However, the researchers were able to determine that it originated in Oort cloud. It is a huge pile of ice and dust, the outer edge of which researchers believe could be located in about 1.5 light yearsor at the extreme limit of the area where the gravitational influence of the solar system is exerted.
The Oort Cloud is of particular interest to astronomers; they believe it contains many secrets directly related to the formation of the solar system. In fact, many researchers believe that the cloud material first formed near the Sun.
At that time, our cosmic neighborhood was far from stable. Physically speaking, the system was very unbalanced; many celestial bodies, including titans like Jupiter, were flying in all directions as they waited to settle into an orbit. Thus they generated a big gravitational jolt who has shuffled and redistributed much of the materialincluding what is now the Oort Cloud.
Therefore, the composition and distribution of cloud material is of great interest to researchers. But unfortunately, it is also particularly difficult to observe. So difficult, in fact, that no one has managed to do it directly, since there are no nearby stars to illuminate the surrounding material. Even if clues abound and its existence is widely accepted, the Cloud remains technically hypothetical.
A window into the origins of the solar system
Every time NASA detects an object suspected of originating in this area, it is therefore a notable event for astronomers; and C/2014 UN271 is no exception. Especially since, unlike most of its congeners, it is massive enough to be seen from afar.
“This comet is literally the tip of an iceberg of thousands of comets that are too inconspicuous to be seen in remote parts of the solar system.”, explains David Jewitt, an astronomer at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). “We suspected that it must be massive, since it is rare to see such a bright comet at this distance. “, specifies. “Now we have been able to confirm it.”
And the other good news is that it will remain observable for some time. In fact, C/2014 UN271 is currently in a sentence that approaches the sun and, by extension, the Earth. It will reach its perihelion, the point of its orbit closest to the Sun, at 2031. Therefore, NASA has a little ten years to extract as much information as possible from this interstellar traveler. And we will have to take advantage of it, because C/2014 UN271 will not visit us again for another three million years. Hopefully this time will be enough to learn more about the mysterious Oort Cloud and the early days of the solar system!