The majesty of space is often difficult to put into words, but every so often professional stargazers are able to reverently meditate upon the heavens before properly articulating the cosmic grandeur on display far above humanity’s humble heads. Late last month, the universe gifted just one such occasion to us: A big “cow comet” is farting its way towards us real fast, y’all.
As The Daily Beast reports, the largest comet ever observed by humanity is currently on track to pass through our solar system between Uranus and Saturn in less than ten years’ time. At an estimated 60 to 100 miles wide, Bernardinelli-Bernstein (named after its discoverers) is the “nearly spherical cow of comets,” dwarfing its celestial comparisons like Hale-Bopp, which only measures a measly 37 miles across.
“It’s pristine,” University of Pennsylvania astronomer Pedro Bernardinelli explains of their beloved bovine comet. “Not a lot has happened to this object since its formation in the early days of the solar system, and so we can think of it as a window into the past.”
According to astronomers, Bernardinelli-Bernstein (BB, as it has been affectionately nicknamed) is a remnant of our solar system’s creation from billions of years back, and will provide an illuminating look at our cosmic neighborhood’s formative era.
Due to BB generally hanging out in deep space most of the time, its chemical composition is likely to be largely unchanged from its earliest years, namely a mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Observations about that composition will be able to reveal just where, exactly, BB first got its start in the solar system.
Although BB’s watchers are hopeful that a space agency might fund a probe’s voyage to the comet’s surface (as NASA is currently doing for asteroids near Jupiter), they aren’t holding their breath.
In all likelihood we’ll only be able to gawk at the big cow comet from telescopes here on Earth, but that alone should at least provide a host of new information on how all this mess first got started.
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