A Huge Comet Has Entered Our Inner Solar System, Heading Towards Earth

A massive comet entering the final stages of a multimillion-year journey toward the sun has entered the inner part of our solar system and is expected to make its closest pass to Earth in July.

Scientists have known about Comet C/2017 K2 for several years – the Hubble Telescope observed it in 2017, when it was the most distant active incoming comet ever seen.

At that time, the icy space ball was 1.5 billion kilometers from our star, even further than Saturn. Even at this distance, the comet, estimated to be around 12 miles across or less, was heating up and had developed an 80,000 mile wide cloud of dust and gas around it.

Scientists believe that C/2017 K2 originated in the Oort Cloud, a colossal sphere of icy objects that orbit our sun even beyond the most distant planets in our solar system.

A huge comet has entered our Inner Solar System. Comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) on May 07, 2022, taken by Pepe Chambó.
cometografia.es/Pepe Chambó

The comet traveled a great 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.

Now it is in our corner of the country that we have entered the inner solar system according to SpaceWeather.com. It is due to make its closest pass to Earth on July 14, although the comet is still farther from us than Mars.

Comets are balls of dust, ice, and gas that are essentially leftovers from the early solar system. Their orbits sometimes bring them closer to the sun, causing them to heat up and glow.

The Hubble Space Telescope
In this combination image, an illustration depicts a comet flying through space. Comets in the Oort cloud can give scientists information about the early solar system and the Hubble Space Telescope image shows a hazy cloud of dust, called a coma, surrounding comet C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS (K2), the comet active farthest ever observed entering the solar system.

The “close” pass of C/2017 K2 will be a good opportunity for scientists – and anyone else with a small backyard telescope – to study it.

“The beauty of comets such as that of the Oort cloud is that they carry the chemical fingerprints of the cloud from which our solar system formed,” said Professor Brad Gibson, director of the EA Milne Center for Astrophysics. at the University of Hull in the UK. , Told Newsweek.

“It’s relatively rare that we can figuratively – and in some cases literally – pick up this material, examine it, and get a unique, clean look at what our sun and planets were built on a long time ago. five billion years. In addition, the role that comets might have played in transporting water to planets such as Earth remains a very hot topic of scientific research.”

The Oort Cloud comets are particularly interesting because their extremely wide orbits mean that we only see them once every few million years.

“There are a number of these unique distant intruders heading into the inner solar system, but because they are relatively rare, each provides a particular insight into the conditions that existed billions of years ago when the solar system first was created for the first time training,” Gibson said.

Alan Fitzsimmons from Queen’s University Belfast Astrophysics Research Center said Newsweek“Many comets enter the inner solar system each year. Although C/2017 K2 is only one of them, it is relatively bright, so it is an excellent comet for scientists to study when it approaches the sun.

March
C/2017 K2 has entered our inner solar system. An image of the planet Mars with the moon.
iStock/Getty Images

“While it won’t reach Mars’ orbit, let alone Earth’s, it has already allowed astronomers to measure how comets react to the sun’s heat as they travel beyond Earth. the distance from the planet Uranus.”

Arline J. Mercier