Science & Tech

A gigantic comet racing through our solar system is 15 times taller than Mount Everest

Explaining the Rosetta mission

A huge comet is speeding through our solar system at an alarming pace – and no, we’re not describing the plot of Don’t Look Up.

Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein is one of the biggest ever detected, measuring 15 times taller than Mount Everest.

It’s almost unfathomably large and difficult to comprehend, but for context, that’s six times larger than the comet which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Thankfully we can all breathe easy, as it won't come within a billion miles of Earth.

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While it was observed in 2021, new research has been revealed which shows it’s much larger than anyone first thought.

The new study which will be published in the science journal Astronomy & Astrophysics estimates that it’s a staggering 85 miles wide.

Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein is much larger than the likes of Comet Hyakutake, picturedBill Ingalls/Creative Commons

Samantha Lawler, who is an astronomer at the University of Regina but played no part in the research, said: "It’s huge. It's by the far the biggest comet that's ever been discovered."

The comet has had an interesting history, having first been inadvertently spotted by astronomers during a survey of galaxies in the deep cosmos back in 2014.

It was identified as being 1.8 billion miles from the sun last year. It comes from the Oort cloud, which is a sphere of icy objects surrounding the solar system – which is the origin of many comets.

Bernardinelli-Bernstein won't come any closer to Earth than the orbit of Saturn in 2031, about a billion miles away.

Thank goodness, really.

The comet is being observed by measuring its "thermal flux” to record how much heat is coming off it.

"This is one way we can find out how big something is in the outer solar system without sending a probe there," Lawler said.

Meanwhile, it was recently reported that a near-Earth comet which created a devastating airburst over North America 1,500 years ago, may have caused the rapid decline of Hopewell culture, an ancient pre-Columbian Native American civilisation.

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