by Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com
Amateur astronomers, mark your calendars: one of the largest comets ever documented is going to make its closest pass to the Sun in 2031.
The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center announced new details about the object, including its name, 2014 UN271, on June 19, George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo. 2014 UN271 is between 62 and 230 miles wide—unusually large for a comet—and it is currently careening through the solar system, traversing about the distance between the Earth and the Sun each year. And at its closest point, 2014 UN271 will be about ten times farther from the Sun than Earth, Michael Irving reports for New Atlas.
2014 UN271 may develop the recognizable coma and tail of a comet as it gets closer. Observations of the object could help astronomers better understand a mysterious region called the Oort Cloud that surrounds our solar system.
Queens University planetary scientist Meg Schwamb tells Gizmodo that she is looking forward to “fireworks” as 2014 UN271 gets closer, especially if it begins to break into pieces. The object’s visit to the inner solar system may also be the birth of a long-period comet. But astronomers will have to wait and see what happens.