Home / Science / News /  ‘Bigger than Rhode Island’: NASA on largest comet ever spotted. See photos

C/2014 UN271, the largest comet ever seen by astronomers, has an estimated diameter of approximately 80 miles, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has confirmed adding that “it is larger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island." The nucleus is about 50 times larger than that found at the heart of the most known comets and its mass is estimated to be 500 trillion tons, a hundred thousand times bigger than the mass of a typical comet.

First spotted in 2010, the comet is headed toward Earth at 22,000 miles per hour from the edge of the solar system. But NASA asserted that there is nothing to worry about as “the comet won’t come any closer to Earth than Saturn". It has been calculated that the comet will never get closer than 1 billion miles away from the sun, which won’t be until the year 2031.

C/2014 UN271 was discovered by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein in archival images from the Dark Energy Survey at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Since then, it has been intensively studied.

“This is an amazing object, given how active it is when it’s still so far from the Sun," said the paper’s lead author Man-To Hui of the Macau University of Science and Technology, Taipa Macau. “We guessed the comet might be pretty big, but we needed the best data to confirm this." Macau’s team used Hubble to take five photos of the comet in January.

The previous record-holder is comet C/2002 VQ94, with a nucleus estimated to be 60 miles across. It was discovered in 2002 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project.

(With inputs from agencies)

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