The largest comet ever discovered will enter our solar system. It will strafe Saturn’s orbit in 2031. It was first seen in October 20, 2014 by a telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The comet, known as the Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet (or C/2014 UN271, in astro-speak), is at least 62 miles (100 kilometers) across — about 1,000 times more massive than a typical comet. It’s so large that astronomers previously mistook it for a dwarf planet. It was moving rapidly through the Oort cloud , a vast scrapyard of icy rocks, billions of miles from Earth. The enormous rock poses no threat to Earth. Over the next decade, Bernardinelli-Bernstein will continue to get brighter as it approaches the inner solar system .The comet’s closest approach to Earth will occur sometime in the year 2031, when scientists predict the comet will swoop within 10.97 AU of the sun , putting it just outside of Saturn’s orbit. Humans won’t be able to see the comet without telescopes. But a decent backyard telescope could help. After modeling the comet’s trajectory, the study authors calculated that comet BB made its last approach 3.5 million years ago.
Getting a closer look at the rock could help scientists understand a bit more about the chemical composition of the early solar system. Researchers have plenty of time to study the massive comet. This is a rare opportunity for a generation of astronomers. The comet will remain visible into at least the 2040s, if not decades longer. It takes millions of years to circle the sun. . For now, there’s no official mission in the works, but if the world’s space agencies move quickly, a mission could intercept the comet in 2033 if it launches no later than 2029.