This record-breaking comet tail is over 1 billion kilometers long

Moya Lothian-McLean@moya_lm
Wednesday 10 June 2020 15:00
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(iStock)

Is this truly the longest ‘yeah boyyyyyyyy’ ever?

Findings from a NASA spacecraft have revealed a record-breaking comet, with a tail believed to be over one billion kilometres (aka an astronomical 621 million miles).

As reported by IFL Science, Comet 153P/Ikeya-Zhang’s ion tail is nearly twice the length of Comet Hyakutake, the previous record-holder.

But to make the discovery, scientists had to trawl through two decades of data.

A team of researchers at UCL examined data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in 2002 when it was travelling between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn.

At the time, Cassini picked up on an increased number of protons in the atmosphere.

Now, 18 years later, scientists believe those protons came from the ionized tail of Comet 153P/Ikeya-Zhang.

It’s all down to cross-referencing the proton numbers and the location of the comet at the time.

Examining the protons also helped the researchers work out just how big the comet’s tail was.

It turned out: huge. Massive. A very long boy.

The minimum tail length of Comet 153P/Ikeya-Zhang calculated by scientists was more than one billion kilometres.

And it could be even bigger.

It might not be so special though; probes apparently rarely cross paths with comet tails.

If they did more often, there could be more data on the average length of comets.

Hey, it’s not the size that matters...

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