The government recently released a report on decades of UFO study, with a kind of anticlimactic conclusion: We still don’t know if those unidentified objects were indeed manned by aliens. (The creator of The X-Files, of course, is skeptical of its findings.) In the meantime, there are if not bigger than other fish to fry: According to New Atlas (as picked up by The New York Post), our solar system is about to get a visitor — not extraterrestrial life but an eccentric “miniature planet.”
Astronomers call it 2014 UN271, and it’s of an awkward size: too large to be a comet, too small to be a planet. (Though it could still be either.) It was only discovered in 2014 (hence the catchy name), and it’s somewhere between 100 and 370 km (62 and 230 miles) wide. It also has an extremely bizarre orbit: It passes around our sun, moving both inside our solar system and through the Oort cloud that marks the boundary of interstellar space.
That orbit, by the way, runs a whopping 612,190 years. That means the last time it was near our home planet was circa the Stone Age.
2014 UN271 isn’t due any time soon. Right now it’s about 22 Astronomical Units (AU) from the Sun. For comparison, Earth is 1 AU from it. Meanwhile, Neptune is 29.7 AU, which means it’s actually closer to us than the last planet in our solar system. The closest it will come won’t be until 2031, getting close to the orbit of Saturn.
That means when it’s nearby in another decade, 2014 UN271 won’t be visible to the naked eye, like Haley’s Comet, which won’t be back in our neck of the woods until 2061. But there should be plenty of amazing NASA footage. Anyway, mark your calendars!