Two astronomers may have discovered the largest celestial body to date, which originated in the so-called Oort cloud at the very edge of the solar system. The object found by Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein is called 2014 UN271 and was found in images of the huge sky survey DES (Dark Energy Survey). There is still speculation about whether it is a particularly large comet or even a dwarf planet. 2014 is UN271 over 20 AU (astronomical units) away from the sun, at the beginning of 2031 it should approach our home star to just under 11 AU, slightly outside the orbit of Saturn.
Photographed years ago, now discovered
As with Bernardinelli one of the discoverers explained on Twitter, the celestial body was found as part of a full search of data already collected from the Dark Energy Survey. The immense sky survey was carried out between 2013 and 2019, just a few weeks ago dozens of scientific papers based on it were presented. According to Bernardinelli, 2014 is UN271 on recordings from 2014 to 2018, hence the year in the provisional name. They could not make out a tail on the object, which at that time was almost 30 AU from the sun, but activity was now already detected during the first follow-up observations. The object needs several hundred thousand or even over a million years to orbit the sun.
While the astronomy community is excited about the discovery and the great expectations for many observations, 2014 will see UN271 do not get so close to the earth and sun that it will also be visible to the general public. Like the astronomer Meg Schwamb explained to Gizmodo, she assumes that the celestial body measures between 100 and 150 kilometers. Should it actually develop a tail, it will be one of the largest known comets at all. Nevertheless, the one on earth will only be about as bright as the dwarf planet Pluto and best seen from the southern hemisphere. In any case, the researchers hope for a lot of knowledge about the Oort cloud, from which it originates and which has so far only been described theoretically.