Debris of 'Doomsday' Comet Elenin to Pass by Earth Sunday
Amateur astronomer Michael Mattiazzo of Castlemaine, Australia caught these two images of comet Elenin on Aug. 19 (left) and Sept. 6, 2011. The images show a rapid dimming in the comet, possibly hinting at its disintegration. CREDIT: Michael Mattiazzo.
What's left of the "doomsday comet" Elenin will make its closest approach to Earth Sunday (Oct. 16). Comet Elenin started breaking up in August after being blasted by a huge solar storm, and a close pass by the sun on Sept. 10 apparently finished it off, astronomers say. What will cruise within 22 million miles (35.4 million kilometers) of our planet Sunday is likely to be a stream of debris rather than a completely intact comet.
And the leftovers of Elenin won't return for 12,000 years, astronomers say.
"Folks are having trouble finding it, so I think it's probably dead and gone," said astronomer Don Yeomans of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Those [doomsday] ideas were pure nonsense, Yeomans said.
"Elenin was a second-rate, wimpy little comet that never should have been noted for anything, really," he said.
Elenin never posed any threat to life on Earth, Yeomans said. It was far too small to exert any appreciable influence on our planet unless it managed to hit us.
"Just driving to work every day in my subcompact car is going to have far more of a gravitational effect on Earth than this comet ever will," Yeomans said.
Elenin's crumbs will soon leave Earth in the rear-view mirror, speeding out on a long journey to the outer solar system.
Read the whole story and find more images on Space.com
Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff