A miniature planet — with a 600,000 year long orbit — will soon make its closest path to Earth since the days of the caveman.
The space rock 2014 UN271 has already careened into the inner solar system and will reach its closest point to Earth in 2031, according to New Atlas.
The celestial body is too large to be a comet and too small to be classified as a planet, according to the outlet, which characterizes 2014 UN271 as “extremely eccentric.”
The object is already closer to the sun than Neptune, and in a decade the space rock will be about the same distance as Saturn, according to the report.
The last time 2014 UN271 was that close to Earth was 612,190 years ago, the article said. Since then, it has spent most of its wild orbit in the Oort Cloud — the outer portion of our solar system up to three light years away, which is influenced by the gravitational pull of both the sun and passing stars in the Milky Way.
The space rock is estimated to only be 62 to 230 miles wide, but its size is reportedly larger than any object recorded in the Oort Cloud.
“[That] puts it on a similar scale, if not larger than, Sarabat’s huge comet C/1729 P1, and almost undoubtedly the largest Oort Cloud object ever discovered – almost in dwarf planet territory!” said Sam Deen, a citizen astronomer, in a post on the Minor Planet Mailing List (MPML) forum.”
As 2014 UN271 gets closer to the Sun, it’s expected to develop the coma and tail of a comet, as ice on its surface vaporizes from the star’s heat, according to the report.
In a best case scenario for amateur astronomers, 2014 UN271 will become as bright as Pluto as it approaches Earth, before hurling back into the icy darkness of the solar system’s outer edges, the article said.
It’s round trip distance is reportedly 60,000 AU, with one AU being equal to the distance between the Earth and the Sun, or 93 million miles.
The eccentric body was only discovered between 2014 and 2018 as part of the Dark Energy Survey, which identified more than 100 previously unknown minor planets.