The Brazilian scientist who discovered the largest comet the universe has ever seen: “It was pure luck, a coincidence”

The Brazilian scientist who discovered the largest comet the universe has ever seen: “It was pure luck, a coincidence”
  • Leandro Machado
  • From BBC News Brazil in Sao Paulo

attributed to him, personal archive

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Brazilian cosmologist Pedro Bernardinelli has discovered the largest comet ever known to mankind

When he started his PhD in the United States, cosmologist Pedro Bernardinelli, 27, did not expect to find comets. “That wasn’t the idea,” he says. “What happened was real luck.” In April of this year, he found a massive star in a stream filled with data about objects scattered throughout the universe. But not only that: it was the largest comet known to mankind, about 2.5 times larger than the previous record holder.

Days later, then-comet C/2014UN271 changed his name to Bernardinelli-Bernstein, in honor of Brazilian scientist and doctoral advisor Gary Bernstein. “There was a name change process, but it took a few days,” he says. “They asked me to keep it a secret. It was a funny experience.”

The new star was already revealed for the first time in 2014, but there was little information about him. Until this year, it was just a speck of light in the thousands of images of the sky taken by telescopes observing the universe. That’s why the temporary alias, took a number. Now, from the Brazilian’s analysis, we know that it is about 4.5 billion years old and has a diameter of 150 kilometers (the distance between Rio de Janeiro and Cabo Frio or São Paulo and Bertiuga), which is the largest diameter ever recorded.

attributed to him, Dark Energy Survey

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The comet is expected to reach its closest point to the sun in January 2031

It’s also coming towards Earth, but you don’t have to worry. The data shows that the comet will reach its closest point to the Sun in January 2031, and will remain at a distance of 11 astronomical units (about 1.5 billion km, close to Saturn’s orbit).

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