An ancient comet, believed to be over 4 billion years old is headed towards the Earth. The massive comet is at least 80 miles across, making it twice the width of Rhode Island. It’s currently speeding towards the Earth at 22,000 miles per hour.

The comet in question is currently traveling toward Earth at 22,000 miles per hour. It’s hurtling inward from the edge of our solar system. Luckily, we won’t have to worry about the comet impacting the Earth. Astronomers say it will never pass closer than 1 billion miles from the Sun. That’s a little farther than the distance between the Earth and Saturn.

The ancient comet is expected to pass that close to the Earth sometime in 2031. That means we have a number of years before we even need to concern ourselves with this ancient celestial object. Still, it is always interesting to see when comets and asteroids are headed in our direction.

David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at UCLA co-authored a study on the comet. Jewitt and his fellow authors published the study in Astrophysical Journal Letters. He says that objects like this ancient comet were “evicted” from the solar system ages ago.

Jewitt says the comets then took up residence in the Oort Cloud, which is a massive gathering of far-flung comets that encircle our solar system. Other comets like this ancient comet then orbit the solar system billions of miles into deep space.

Meet Comet C/2014 UN271

A brief look at how Comet C/2014 UN271 compares to other comets we’ve discovered. Image source: NASA, ESA, Zena Levy (STScI)

On top of making its way towards the Earth, there’s something else that makes this ancient comet so intriguing. For one, astronomers say that this comet has the largest nucleus of any comet we’ve seen thus far. They determined the size of the nucleus using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. They currently estimate the comet is as large as 85 miles across.

Comet C/2014 UN271 was first discovered by Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein. The astronomers first observed it in 2010. At that time, the ancient comet was 3 billion miles from the Sun. Now, it is less than 2 billion miles from the Sun. Jewitt says that it will continue its current loop until it eventually returns to the Oort Cloud in a few million years.

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On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0003

A close-up of a heliport under construction in Rutog County.

0001

On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0004

Construction crews are now scattered around Ladakh as Indian authorities speed up their infrastructure race with China.

0005

An overview of a heliport under construction near Aksai Chin Lake, in a region administered by China but contested by India, on May 28.

0002

An overview of a heliport under construction in Rutog County in the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, on Nov. 28.

0003 0001 0004 0005 0002

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Runway

Runway

China is expanding the construction of its facilities on Fiery Cross Reef. Provided by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), this June 28, 2015 photo reveals Beijing has nearly completed a 3,000 meter (9,800-foot) airstrip, long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft. Two h...

Expansion

Expansion

Reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef, which lies on the west side of the Spratly Islands, began in August of 2014 and its principal landmass was finished by November. Dredgers have created a land mass that spans the entire existing reef and is approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide.

Facilities

Facilities

This picture taken last November shows construction work being carried out on Fiery Cross Reef. The reef reportedly already houses a helicopter landing pad, a 300-meter-long wharf, a harbor large enough to dock military tankers, barracks and artillery emplacements.

South Johnson Reef

South Johnson Reef

This reef was one of the first facilities to finish principal land reclamation. This recent picture shows that a radar tower is nearing completion at the north end of the land mass. According to AMTI, a new large multi-level military facility has been built in the center of the island. Up to six sur...

A naval base?

A naval base?

Beginning in early 2015, Mischief Reef - also located in the Spratlys - has undergone extensive reclamation activity. Experts say that the recent widening of the southern entrance to the reef, coupled with sightings of Chinese navy vessels, may suggest a future role for the reclaimed reef as a naval...

From reef to island

From reef to island

Significant construction on Gaven Reef began in 2014, with a total of 114,000 square meters of land already created. Satellite pictures show just how fast construction has progressed on the reef. A new artificial island was created between March (left) and August (right) 2014.

Troop garrison

Troop garrison

According to AMTI, China has had a troop garrison on Gaven Reef since 2003, which has included a large supply platform where ships can dock. Experts say a new main square building in the reef appears to be an anti-aircraft tower.

A standardized process

A standardized process

As seen in this image, the basic process of expanding these features involves dredging sand from the seafloor and dumping it onto the reefs. The structure is raised above the high water line, hiding the status of the bank or reef beneath. The sand is then smoothed out and workers surround the island...

'Historic rights'

'Historic rights'

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The US Pacific Fleet commander recently said China was "creating a great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. Beijin...

Territorial disputes

Territorial disputes

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, which have led to territorial disputes in the area. Last summer, China's deployment of a massive oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi escalated tensions in the region, sparking a standoff at sea and violent anti-C...

US concerns

US concerns

Washington is concerned China's efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine the US' naval and economic power in the Pacific, and has weighed sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the new artificial islands. Washington has repeatedly called on Beijing and ...

Ecological impact

Ecological impact

The Philippines filed a formal plea at the UN last year, challenging Beijing's territorial claims. Manila said China's reclamation activities are causing "irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea." It also claimed that the destruction of co...

Runway Expansion Facilities South Johnson Reef A naval base? From reef to island Troop garrison A standardized process 'Historic rights' Territorial disputes US concerns Ecological impact

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