The largest comet observed in the history of science was active during the period of its observations

(ORDO NEWS) — The largest comet observed in the history of science was active during the period of its observations

The new study shows that Comet Berardinelli-Bernstein (BB), the largest comet ever observed in the history of astronomy, was already active much earlier than expected, meaning that its ice is currently actively evaporating and forming a shell of dust and gases known as coma. Only one active comet had previously been observed at such a great distance from the Sun, and it was much smaller in size than comet BB.

These findings will help astronomers understand what material Comet BB is made of, which, in turn, will allow a deeper study of the conditions maintained in the early solar system.

Scientists first discovered comet BB in June 2021 using the Dark Energy Survey. As part of this observation campaign, the bright nucleus of the comet was captured, but the spatial resolution of the observations was not enough then to detect the shell of gases and dust that usually forms around the active comet.

Comet BB with a diameter of about 100 kilometers is the largest comet discovered to date, and it is located farther from the Sun than the planet Uranus. Most of the detected comets have a diameter of about 1 kilometer and are much closer to the Sun when they are first detected. When Tony Furnham of the University of Maryland, USA, heard about this discovery, he immediately began to view images of the comet taken using NASA’s Transient Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) – which observes the same area of ​​the sky for 28 days … A longer exposure will provide more details about the structure of comet BB, the scientist decided then.

Together with his colleagues, Farhan combined thousands of images of comet BB, collected between 2018 and 2020. By overlaying a large number of images of the moving comet on top of each other, Farhan was able to get a clearer picture. As a result of this overlay, a coma-like cloud appeared in the images, indicating that Comet BB is active.

To test his method, Farhan made a similar overlay of images for other moving celestial objects, obviously not coma, such as asteroids, and thereby confirmed that the blurred cloud found around comet BB is in fact a coma of an active comet.

The study is published in the Planetary Science Journal.



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