2014 UN271 is not a particularly flashy name, but the star it gives its name certainly is. An object larger than comets and at the same time smaller than dwarf planets. An object with one of the most eccentric orbits that we know of. An object that takes a total of 612,190 years to orbit the Sun.
Every 612,190 years and in 2031 we will have the opportunity to see it in its closest step to the Sun. Astronomers have calculated its orbit and it is expected to reach a distance of “only” 10.9 astronomical units from the Sun. To put it in context , we are at 1 astronomical unit and Saturn is at 9.58 astronomical units.
Currently 2014 UN271 is traveling through the Solar System. It has already crossed the orbit of Neptune and is about 22 astronomical units from the Sun. In the last seven years it has traveled about 7 astronomical units. To give you an idea, about 1,047,185,094 kilometers.
Its extremely eccentric orbit makes it take approximately 612,190 years to go all the way around the Sun. In Futurism they make an interesting comparison: the last time it got this close to us was in the early Neanderthal era.
Neither comet nor planet
This strange orbit has also made it impossible to study it better. It was discovered between 2014 and 2018 by the Dark Energy Survey. Astronomers’ estimates indicate that it is between 100 and 370 kilometers wide. This means that if it is a comet it is too large in size while it is not large enough to be considered a dwarf planet. It is in any case the largest object that we have identified coming from the Oort Cloud, not the most distant.
It is expected that as it gets a little closer to the Sun it will begin to develop the tail of comets. Reason? The icy material on its surface will begin to vaporize due to the Sun’s heat. A golden opportunity for astronomers to study an object from the Oort Cloud.
Due to its tiny size and remoteness (at the distance from Saturn), we will not be able to observe it with the naked eye. Telescopes will have to be used so that it can be studied in more detail. And it will be brief, as it will soon begin to drift away to lose itself again in the darkness of the Solar System and beyond.