Listen Live

Astronomers say they have identified the largest comet ever seen from Earth, by using the Hubble Space Telescope.

>> Read more trending news

The comet, called C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein), is larger than the state of Rhode Island, according to a press release from NASA.

The estimated diameter of the icy comet’s nucleus is approximately 80 miles.

“The nucleus is about 50 times larger than found at the heart of most known comets,” the NASA release said. “Its mass is estimated to be a staggering 500 trillion tons, a hundred thousand times greater than the mass of a typical comet found much closer to the sun.”

The agency also noted that the comet is “barreling this way at 22,000 miles per hour from the edge of the solar system.”

While it is headed toward our solar system, scientists say there is no chance of it coming close to Earth when it makes its closest pass of the sun in 2031.

It is on a 3-million-year-long elliptical orbit, taking it as far from the Sun as roughly half a light-year, astronomers say.

The ball of ice and dust “is literally the tip of the iceberg for many thousands of comets that are too faint to see in the more distant parts of the solar system,” said David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-author of the new study in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We’ve always suspected this comet had to be big because it is so bright at such a large distance. Now we confirm it is.”

The confirmation came via the Hubble Telescope which has, for some 30 years, been recording the events happening in deep space. Hubble took five photos of the comet on Jan. 8, 2022, to help determine its size.

The comet 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.

It was first seen in November 2010, when it was 3 billion miles from the Sun.

According to NASA, “since then, it has been intensively studied by ground and space-based telescopes.”

“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.”