The Biggest Comet Ever Seen Will get as Close as Saturn in 2031

A mega-comet – potentially the largest ever discovered – is heading from the Oort Cloud towards our direction. Estimated to be 100–200 kilometers across, the unusual celestial wanderer will make its closest approach to the Sun in 2031. However, the closest it will come to Earth is to the orbit of Saturn.

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A Newly-Discovered (Almost) Dwarf Planet Will Come Surprisingly Close in 2031

It’s good to remember how little we know about the outer solar system.  Humans only really began observing it within the past 100 years, and given the constraints on that observations there are still plenty of things we don’t know about.  For example, researchers recently found an object almost the size of a dwarf planet that is inbound to the inner solar system, with an estimated orbital period of over 2 million years, more than six the lifetime of the modern human species.  

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Researchers Simulate the Formation of the Oort Cloud

There is a cloud of debris surrounding our solar system. It’s known as the Oort cloud, and it is the source of most of the comets in our solar system. It was first proposed by Jan Oort, as a way to explain why there were so many long-period comets, and why they can appear from almost any direction. It’s estimated that there are about 100 billion small icy bodies in the Oort cloud, spread throughout a sphere about 50,000 AU from the Sun. Through our studies of comets we’ve learned a great deal about the Oort cloud, but we still don’t fully understand how it came to be.

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Comets Have Tails of gas, Dust… and Metal?

In outer space, an object’s location has a huge impact on its temperature.  The closer the object is to its star, the hotter it most likely is.  Heat then plays a major role in what materials are present in that object’s atmosphere, if it has one.  Lighter elements such as hydrogen and helium and much easier to take a gaseous state and create an atmosphere.  So it came as a surprise when two different teams found much heavier elements in the atmosphere of comets that were relatively far away from the Sun.  And one of those comets happened to be from another solar system.  

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In 1.3 Million Years, a Star Will Come Within 24 Light-Days of the Sun

Within the Milky Way, there are an estimated 200 to 400 billion stars, all of which orbit around the center of our galaxy in a coordinated cosmic dance. As they orbit, stars in the galactic disk (where our Sun is located) periodically shuffle about and get closer to one another. At times, this can have a drastic effect on the star that experience a close encounter, disrupting their systems and causing planets to be ejected.

Knowing when stars will make a close encounter with our Solar System, and how it might shake-up objects within it, is therefore a concern to astronomers. Using data collected by the Gaia Observatory, two researchers with the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) determined that a handful of stars will be making close passes by our Solar System in the future, one of which will stray pretty close!

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Jupiter has Added a Comet to its Trojan Collection

Jupiter is notorious for capturing objects that venture too close to the gas giant and its enormous pull of gravity. Asteroids known as Jupiter Trojans are a large group of space rocks that have been snared by the planet, which usually remain in a stable orbit near one of the Jupiter’s Lagrangian points.  

But now, the Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a comet near Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid population. This is the first time a comet has been found in this region, and the team of scientists studying the object  – named P/2019 LD2 (LD2) – think the unexpected comet is only a temporary visitor.

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