So long, Elenin, and thanks for all the conspiracy theories! The comet that has been the subject of so much unfounded fearful speculation since its discovery in December 2010 will be making its closest pass of Earth tomorrow, October 16 – and when they say closest it means 22 million miles, or almost a third of the distance to the Sun! Then again, what’s left of it will be passing by Earth. Based on recent observations – like the images from Mike Mattiazzo above and below from the comet’s discoverer, Leonid Elenin – it seems it may have pretty much fallen apart.
“Folks are having trouble finding it, so I think it’s probably dead and gone.”
– Don Yeomans, JPL
Discoverer Leonid Elenin posted the image above earlier this month on his website, SpaceObs.org. Taken with the International Scientific Optical Network’s 18″ telescope in New Mexico (ISON-NM), it shows the comet as a faint cloud barely visible after its reappearance from behind the Sun.
“On the left you can see possible position of this ‘cloud’,” Leonid writes. “Brightness of this object does not exceed 18m, which means what now, magnitude of the comet is lower then predicted on 12m. Hopefully in the near future debris of the comet will be observed on a large telescopes, and perhaps we’ll see some details of this ‘cloud’.”
A large solar eruption in August may have spelled the beginning of the end for this small and relatively dim comet.
Having already not been expected to create much of a show for observers on Earth, Elenin is now proving hard to locate at all. “Folks are having trouble finding it, so I think it’s probably dead and gone,” said astronomer Don Yeomans of NASA’s JPL in Pasadena.
Although many rumors have been spread about the catastrophic danger Elenin poses to Earth, in reality the comet was never a threat. So why all the fuss?
“It’s a snowball effect on the Web,” Yeomans said. “You get one or two folks who make an outrageous claim, and a bunch of others pile on. Some folks are actually making a living this way.”
The remains of Elenin will continue along the comet’s orbit, taking it away from Earth and well out of the inner solar system. If anything’s left to make the return trip it won’t be back this way for another 12,000 years.
Plenty of time for more silly theories to pop up, I’m sure!
ALSO see another informative post on Universe Today here.