Ever since it came out on Netflix Don’t look upthe apocalyptic film with Leonardo di Caprio and Jennifer Lawrence about the end of the world, comets have taken on a bad name, ending up being counted among the possible enemies of life on Earth.
In reality, the possibility of one of these cosmic objects hitting our planet is very remote, but despite this comets are constantly monitored, especially if they pass close to the Earth. How is happening a C / 2017 K2 (PanSTARRS).
A record-breaking comet
A huge comet, which is in the final stage of a million-year journey towards the Sun, has entered in the innermost part of our Solar System. By mid-July it is expected to make its closest passage to Earth.
Scientists have known Comet C / 2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) – K2 for friends – for several years: the Hubble Telescope first observed it in 2017, when it was the active comet entering the Solar System further never seen. This record was broken a few years later, in 2021, when the comet was discovered from the Cerro Todolo observatory. Bernardinelli-Bernstein. However, K2 retains a decent second place.
At that moment the comet, which is nothing more than a ball made up of frozen gas, rock and dust, was at 1.5 billion kilometers away from our Sun, even farther than Saturn. Even at that distance, K2 was warming up and had developed around it a cloud of dust and gas nearly 80,000 miles wide.
Scientists think C / 2017 K2 comes from Oort clouda colossal sphere of icy objects that orbit our star far beyond the furthest planets in the Solar System.
The journey close to the Earth
The comet has traveled one very long distance, passing the orbits of Neptune, Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter before entering the asteroid belt that separates the inner Solar System from the outer one. So now it is in our neighborhood, if we want to say so.
Its closest passage to Earth is scheduled for July 14, but at this point it is necessary to make a note: the term is used Neighbor, but in the astronomical field this word has a different meaning. K2 will in fact be farther from Earth of Mars. Not really around the corner, then.
The “close” passage of C / 2017 K2 will be a good opportunity for scientists and anyone with a small garden telescope to study it. Above all, comets are a tool for astronomers more unique than rarebecause they carry with them the fingerprints of what our Solar System used to be when it was formed, billions of years ago.
This close encounter with K2 will also allow to resolve a doubt that has divided the scientists who have studied the comet: its size. According to Hubble observations, K2 is between 18 and 19 kilometers wide, but for the CFHT telescope (Canada France Hawaii) its core is much larger: between 30 and 160 kilometers.
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A comet has entered our solar system because we have been watching it for a while
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