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posted by martyb on Tuesday October 12, @01:30PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]

Dubbed Bernardinelli-Bernstein, it is thousands of times more massive than an average comet. Its close approach is a rare chance to learn more about how Earth and its neighbors were born:

Seven years ago, a pair of scientists scouring high-resolution images of space caught fleeting glimpses of a bright round object peeking from a vast cloud of icy objects more than 2 billion miles from Earth.

As if that whole scene wasn’t exciting enough, the object appeared to be a huge comet. Thought to be between 60 and 100 miles wide, it was the biggest comet a human being had ever witnessed. And it seemed to be heading toward us, very loosely speaking.

[...] Because it’s so much bigger than other known comets—the famous Hale-Bopp comet, which itself is on the larger side, measures just 37 miles across—Bernardinelli-Bernstein possesses enough gravity to hold itself together as it lazily loops through space. It’s harder to break apart.

The comet’s extreme distance from the sun also helped preserve it. “It spends most of its time in the deep freeze of the outer solar system,” Mainzer explained. Models of the megacomet’s orbit indicate it last entered our part of the solar system around 5 million years ago and got no closer than Uranus. From that distance, the sun’s heat hardly touched it.

Mainzer says that as a result, the comet she affectionately calls “BB” probably resembles the original chemical state of the nebula of gas and dust that formed our solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.

[...] It’s highly unlikely NASA or some other space agency building a probe to intercept and collect samples from Bernardinelli-Bernstein (which is ironically what NASA is currently doing with the asteroids surrounding Jupiter).


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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by FatPhil on Tuesday October 12, @02:33PM (8 children)

    It'll never get inside Saturn's orbit, let alone somewhere where amateurs could ever see it. It's only special because it is the Öpik–Oort cloud object that was discovered at the greatest distance. Lame-arse amateurs will alas never get to see it, because:
    """
    With a current declination of −47°, it is best seen from the Southern hemisphere. Its cometary activity and evolution will be monitored by the Vera Rubin Observatory as it approaches perihelion.[22] Once at perihelion, the comet is not expected to get brighter than Pluto (mag 13–16) and is more likely to reach the brightness of Pluto's moon Charon (mag 16.8) as the comet does not enter the inner Solar System where comets become notably more active.[23][24][25] Even if it reaches the magnitude of Pluto, it will require about a 200 mm telescope to be visually seen.
    """ -- le wiki
    --
    I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by istartedi on Tuesday October 12, @06:30PM (6 children)

      by istartedi (123) on Tuesday October 12, @06:30PM (#1186481) Journal

      Do you mean 200 cm? Because 200 mm (0.2 m) is not very big.

      • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Wednesday October 13, @02:34AM (5 children)

        1) What proportion of the world has an 8" or larger telescope? Show your working.

        2) Explain how this isn't a tiny minority of people. Show your working.
        --
        I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, @03:25AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, @03:25AM (#1186564)

          Astronomy clubs might setup viewing events for the public?

          Not affiliated with any such organization, but by chance stumbled onto two separate events in two different US states. There were large looking telescopes at each event (looked like it took multiple people to move the largest of them, if for no other reason than it would have been awkward to carry). But, I don't know enough to be able to say if any were 8" or larger. The folks hosting both events were super nice, and seemed passionate about their hobby-- I bet they, and their fellows in other clubs, will have events for the comet.

          It would have been neat if the comet was visible to the naked eye, though.

        • (Score: 1) by istartedi on Wednesday October 13, @05:24AM (3 children)

          by istartedi (123) on Wednesday October 13, @05:24AM (#1186591) Journal

          You said "lame ass amateurs" which to me implies amateur astronomers who would likely be interested, not the general public. For most amateur astronomers, not being in the Southern hemisphere is the real problem, not the size of the telescope. 8" scopes are not uncommon for amateurs at all. Actually, -46 declination isn't even that bad. Antares is about -26 and I can see that from about 40 north. Any amateur astronomer living on or south of the Tropic of Cancer should have a decent chance of seeing it if they're interested.

          But yes, that's a tiny minority of *the general public*.

          • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Wednesday October 13, @06:27AM (2 children)

            > 8" scopes are not uncommon for amateurs at all

            Indeed. A keen amateur will quite probably have upgraded from his starter 3", 4", 5", or even 6" scope to something of that light-gathering capability or better, unless he has easy access to an institution with better resources.

            But what about the lame-arse amateurs, the ones I was specifically and explicitly referring to?
            --
            I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
            • (Score: 2) by istartedi on Wednesday October 13, @07:11AM (1 child)

              by istartedi (123) on Wednesday October 13, @07:11AM (#1186602) Journal

              I thought they were lame simply because they were amateurs, not because they were too poor to afford something more than a starter scope, or too anti-social to hang out with a fellow star-gazer who has bigger iron.

              ie, you could be looking through a pair of opera glasses in the ghetto or through a 12-inch Schmidt with tracking from the balcony of your mansion; but you're not getting paid for that so you're a "lame ass amateur".

    • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Wednesday October 13, @02:51PM

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Wednesday October 13, @02:51PM (#1186659) Homepage Journal

      It's only special because it is the Öpik–Oort cloud object that was discovered at the greatest distance.

      It's three times the size of the largest comet ever observed.

      With a current declination of −47°, it is best seen from the Southern hemisphere.

      So was Kahoutek. Everyone here was disappointed, but I was stationed in Thailand and it was more visible than Haley's twenty years later. As to the rest, if its orbit never takes it close to the sun, of course you won't see it.

      --
      Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
  • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Tuesday October 12, @03:07PM (5 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 12, @03:07PM (#1186426) Homepage Journal

    That is the Galactic Guardian's base, swinging in to take another look at us. If/when he, she, or it is happy with us, we'll be approached by diplomats from the Galactic Government, to see if we want to join the Federation. Of course, the only things we have to bargain with are human bodies - the entire galaxy has better energy sources, better spacecraft, better genetic engineering - better everything. We'll hire our sons and daughters out to be beasts of burden for the superior beings living throughout the galaxy. That, and sex toys.

    --
    Let's go Brandon!
    • (Score: 4, Funny) by Farmer Tim on Tuesday October 12, @03:52PM (4 children)

      by Farmer Tim (6490) on Tuesday October 12, @03:52PM (#1186439)
      Don’t be absurd. Buying a sex toy that doesn’t have at least one g’nifrum flange is practically admitting you’re into bestiality.
      --
      Caution: 90% probability the above is tongue in cheek.
      • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Wednesday October 13, @02:59PM (3 children)

        by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Wednesday October 13, @02:59PM (#1186661) Homepage Journal

        Bestiality? You mean like Star Trek, where the aliens are less like humans than any other Earthian species, yet still have sex with each other?

        Actually, the idea that a space alien wouid look anywhere near as close to human as a squid does is completely unbelievable.

        --
        Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
        • (Score: 2) by cmdrklarg on Wednesday October 13, @04:32PM (2 children)

          by cmdrklarg (5048) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 13, @04:32PM (#1186693)

          Obviously, the aliens in Star Trek are humanoid because they had to be played by humans on TOS. They do actually have an episode of TNG that gives a canon reason why.

          https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/The_Chase_(episode) [fandom.com]

          --
          Dealing out the agony within
          • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Thursday October 14, @06:01PM (1 child)

            by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Thursday October 14, @06:01PM (#1187048) Homepage Journal

            Yes, but thy could have made the aliens a LOT more alien looking. I'm thinking of the Horta in TOS. And that episode of TNG you refer to was nonsense; a squid and a human both evolved on the same planet, and share a lot of the same DNA. I don't even know anyone who speaks Dolphin, let alone Squid. But like faster than light travel, you have to ignore the reality.

            --
            Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
            • (Score: 2) by cmdrklarg on Thursday October 14, @08:38PM

              by cmdrklarg (5048) Subscriber Badge on Thursday October 14, @08:38PM (#1187101)

              I get what you're saying, but at the end of the day it boiled down to not having enough budget to do all those special effects. Same reason they have transporters: budget didn't allow for shuttle special effects.

              --
              Dealing out the agony within
  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday October 12, @04:06PM (3 children)

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Tuesday October 12, @04:06PM (#1186441) Journal

    That's a big ball of money that will wander off back to the Oort cloud because we haven't gone full Kardashev yet.

    --
    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Tuesday October 12, @05:36PM (2 children)

      by fustakrakich (6150) on Tuesday October 12, @05:36PM (#1186467) Journal

      Musk and Bezos have enough money to whip something up in a hurry. I think it would be best if they went out there personally and bring back a snow cone

      --
      Ok, we paid the ransom. Do I get my dog back? REDЯUM
      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday October 12, @06:29PM

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Tuesday October 12, @06:29PM (#1186479) Journal

        I would settle for NASA visiting it, but:

        It’s highly unlikely NASA or some other space agency building a probe to intercept and collect samples from Bernardinelli-Bernstein

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, @08:14PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, @08:14PM (#1186493)

        They and Branson could all fly together and film it as a reality tv show. Think of the zany antics that would ensue!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, @08:50PM (5 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, @08:50PM (#1186504)

    First time I've heard/seen a group of comets called a "Cow". When I try to Google it I only get references to this story. Does anyone have an actual reference that this is actually an accepted term?

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, @08:56PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, @08:56PM (#1186505)
    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, @02:25AM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, @02:25AM (#1186545)
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by FatPhil on Wednesday October 13, @02:55AM (1 child)

        Whilst that's almost certainly the expression they're using, I'd say the illiterate halfwits have used it completely out of context. The only aspect of a "sphrical cow" that this has is that it's in a vacuum. I imagine.

        Spherical cows are supposed to be simplified archetypes that give us an insight into a class of objects which approximate that archetype that would be hard to derive without the simplification.

        This is the largest object of its kind we've found, and as yet we know very little about it apart from its trajectory, which is far from simple or typical, in now way can it currently be thought of as representative of its class, and something from which we can derive properties about other members of that class.

        Journalist learnt a new phrase yesterday, but didn't learn enough about it to use it correctly.

        That anyone vaguely technical wasn't aware of the phrase is a bit shocking. What's happened to education nowadays? And yes, this is a snark at the GPP as much as the journalist. He wasn't even able to parse a noun phrase correctly either, and thus be able to ask the right question.
        --
        I know I'm God, because every time I pray to him, I find I'm talking to myself.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, @04:04PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, @04:04PM (#1186685)

          I grew up on a farm. The only cows I came across mooed.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by DannyB on Wednesday October 13, @02:19PM

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday October 13, @02:19PM (#1186652) Journal

      First time I've heard/seen a group of comets called a "Cow".

      Devin Nunes will be very upset.

      --
      Employers should not mandate wearing clothing. It should be a personal choice. It only affects me. Junk can't breathe!
  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, @10:34PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, @10:34PM (#1186521)

    We just keep checking off items that could only be signs of a coming Apocalypse. A cow-shaped comet in the skies. A superhero who turns out to be gay. A state that just banned stores from selling toys with genders. A Democrat president who sends mounted horsemen to whip away refugees seeking asylum.

    The end is nigh.

    • (Score: 2) by hendrikboom on Wednesday October 13, @01:55AM (1 child)

      by hendrikboom (1125) on Wednesday October 13, @01:55AM (#1186543) Homepage Journal

      banned stores from selling toys with genders.

      I don't think the article said that. It banned areas which were segregated by gender. It won't prohibit selling Bob the Builder right next to Barbie.

      And by the way, Barbie was based on a German sex toy, presumably sold to men.

      -- hendrik

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, @05:03AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, @05:03AM (#1186585)

      The Sign I noticed was FatPhil critiquing grammar! May the Frictionless Spherical Cow Comet save us all!

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