Comet Elenin Continues To Fade – Will It Survive?

This series of photos, taken on August 19,22,23,27 and 29, show how Comet Elenin has faded since the possible disruption of the comet nucleus (invisible but located inside the bright center of the coma) about a week ago. Credit: Michael Mattiazzo

I can’t believe it. As of today, my two daughters are in college. Like comets leaving the inner solar system, they’re in orbits of their own and destined for faraway places. I love them both and wish them Happy Trails.

Ah, today’s another day when I’m racing about with many tasks ahead. Still, I wanted to update you on Comet Elenin’s progress. It doesn’t look good. The comet remains dim and appears very soft and diffuse with little brightening toward the center – all signs that point to a breakup of the actual comet body that’s buried inside the dusty glow. Its size is estimated at several kilometers. The apparent break-up has caused a release of dust in the past few days that’s been pushed back by the pressure of sunlight into a short dust tail very evident in the photos.

Since Comet Elenin lies nearly in the plane of Earth’s orbit, when it passes near the sun later this month on September 26, the increased amount of dust produced from any breakup will probably cause a nice brightening in the comet due to something called ‘forward scattering’. You’re already familiar with the phenomenon if  you’ve ever driven a car with a dirty windshield in the direction of a low sun. Every bit of dirt and bug splatter light up, making it hard to see. A quick hit of the washer switch clears the view. Something quite similar may happen with Comet Elenin.

It’s unknown if the dust will light up soon enough before or long enough after the September 26 date to become visible down here on Earth through a telescope. If the brightening is short-lived, no one will see it on the ground, because the comet will so near the sun in the sky, it’ll be overwhelmed by daylight.

Luckily, we have a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. The coronagraph on the orbiting SOHO solar telescope will have a great view of Elenin from a few days before until a few days after that date. Its field of view is large enough to include the comet, the inner planets, background stars and the sun’s corona or outer atmosphere.  I’ll provide links and daily updates as we get closer to the 26th.

This photo was made today September 1 from Australia with an 11-inch telescope. It shows Comet Elenin's weak and dim the nuclear region at center. Credit: Michael Mattiazzo

All these changes will not affect us in any way here on Earth. The comet is millions of miles away and won’t get closer than about 22 million miles in mid October. What it might mean however is a dramatic fading around the time of closest approach to the sun (perihelion). That happens this Saturday September 10.

I’ve also been asked whether a crumbling comet might mean trouble for our planet. If Comet Elenin is indeed breaking up, pieces of it streaming down the tail or in a tight cluster at comet-center might eventually show in larger telescopes. The individual fragments – should any survive – will keep tracking along the same general orbit of the comet and will not veer off to threaten Earth, because they’re traveling together in the same direction at very high speed.

I’m crossing my fingers right hoping at least some of the comet carries through perihelion, so we can see it with simple equipment come early October. That’s when it returns to easy viewing in the morning sky. Right now I suspect a telescope will be required.

If Elenin turns into a dud, there will always be other comets. Comet Garradd, currently in the evening sky and visible in small telescopes,  will brighten to a dim naked eye object early next year. In the next couple weeks, Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajusakova will return to the northern hemisphere morning sky. Modest-sized telescopes should show it as a fuzzy round glow perhaps with a tail. Other more distant comets waiting in the wings are also headed toward the inner solar system in the near future and will provide nice shows. And who knows? Someone may discover a new comet next week that might eclipse them all.

52 Responses

  1. dandona

    What about astroid 2005yu55 please also what do you think about what they say about a weird force came from Jupiter that broke it , and some people say it’s not broken but they r saying It’s one of the ways to cover up, and something really bad will happen on September 11 or that elenin change it course and headed to us now, really Astros Bob am so scared for the sake of God tell me what is gona happen am really. Worried about my kids 🙁

    1. astrobob

      Dandona — Nothing will happen on Earth when 2005 YU55 flies by in November. You’ll go about your day just as you did on Monday June 11 this year when asteroid 2011MD passed much, much closer at just 7,500 miles. I trust your day was a good one then and hope that November 8 will be just as pleasant. The asteroid was not broken into pieces by Jupiter and Comet Elenin is NO way, NO how headed for Earth. Take your children out and share with them the wonders of the sky. Tell them about the moon and how people walked on it and came home safely with bundles of cool rocks. Explain to them how stars are just like the sun, only so far away we can’t feel their heat. Tell them that right now a spaceship is headed to Pluto and will get there in four years.

      1. jessie leigh

        Bob I can’t thank you enough for your kind and smart comments.
        I remember how back in June 2011 I was so scared over space and its comets, and I found your site and you just took all my worries away.I think I was silly back then and upset with myself thinking-wow why in the world did I let this doomsday stuff get to me?-
        But THANK you so much for all that you do!

        I learned so much from your site. and every time I look at the stars and know something about them I think to myself Bob taught me that just by reading all your blogs.
        Keep up the good work!

      2. David Penny

        Hey Bob,
        So glad to hear elenin wont harm us, thanks for clearing that up with dandona, i had the same fears, im also really worried i was unaware of 2011md passing so close to us….do you think there will be a day when a comet does zoom into our atmosphere and harm us? also i was reading that elenin is going to align with earth and the sun as it has done in the past and set of seismic activity? is elenin a planet or a comet, im hearing so many different stories? thank you

        1. astrobob

          Hi David — Comet Elenin is indeed a comet and a small one at that. While some may have you believe that alignments of this comet and sun are the cause of various earthquakes, there is no scientific evidence whatever to back this up. It’s wishful, doomsday thinking based on nothing more than coincidence.

          1. David Penny

            Thanks bob, just stumbled upon ur site and read on down to see you’ve answered my questions to many others, apologies….i was wondering do you need a telescope to see supernova? also did i you say in a previous comment elenin is mostly made up of gases and not 100% solid, why are so many people saying its bigger than it actually is and there saying its a planet rather then a comet?? thanks.

          2. astrobob

            David — To see the supernova you need a small telescope though large 80mm binoculars might do when the moon’s not out. The actual comet body is a solid object composed of dust and ice. Google Comet Hartley 2 and you’ll have a very good idea of what one looks like. When near the sun, ice from the comet vaporizes and carries dust along with it to form a large, very thin cloud of gas and dust called a coma. Elenin’s coma, like many comets, can grow to be very large (and scary sounding) but the reality is it’s mostly empty space.

  2. benny martinez

    Im so worried about the end of the world. Should I just stop studying and just enjoy whats left of my life or the life as I once knew it. Excuse my sarcasm but too many conspiracys are born without the educated research and common scense of the reader, viewer or weak minded. My question is why are ppl making this out to be some haarp, nwo or end of the world theme? Is it to sell a book or are ppl just dumb?

    1. astrobob

      Benny, in some cases it’s definitely to sell a book or get invited to speak. In others it’s a mix of bullying and power people feel when they can induce fear or anxiety in others. A tiny, tiny minority might believe they’re really trying to help others despite their misguided efforts. And a great many are gullible people scaring other people by passing along bad information. Those are my opinions only and based on how I’ve seen things play out over the years, but I’m no expert on human psychology.

  3. Hans

    2011 MD was 10 times smaller than yu55!
    And it wasn’t as close as yu55 will be 😉
    But i don’t to scare anybody, i’m not believing in an impact, but a great event to watch if u are able to (won’t see it with naked eyes)

    1. astrobob

      Hi Hans — Yes, it is larger but not by much — 2005 YU55 is only 400 meters across. Compared to the Earth, it’s like a tiny pebble you’d find in your shoe.

  4. Hans

    Ok!
    Thank you 🙂
    So the only asteroid which is interesting for nasa is apophis 99942 right?
    And this one will come on over earliest 2029?

    1. astrobob

      Hans — I wouldn’t say that’s the only one. Anytime an interesting one comes by, they’ll ping it with the Goldstone radar (to detemine shape) and try to track its path. NASA will typically send a press release online as well. Apophis is certainly one of the most interesting asteroids because it might (extremely high emphasis on “might”!) hit Earth in the future. It is however very unlikely.

  5. ModelCitizen

    Hello Astro Bob,

    Comet Elenin is about to transverse through the ecliptic (from the north to south) on Sept 11, 2011. Do I have that correct?

    I’ve read but not verified that it’s coma is huge and may expand to larger than Jupiter before its at the closest point to Earth. What do you know about this aspect?

    I’m wondering if you know if NASA’s recorded speed and trajectory of Elenin’s path through the solar system matches what NASA expected for a body of Elenin’s purported mass and speed?

    How unique is Elenin in terms of its size (including coma and tail), its composition and trajectories compard to other comets?

    Have you read Prof. Mensur Omerbashich’s correlative data regarding alignments of solar system bodies with Comet Elenin and major earthquakes during the last few years?

    The scientific community has disregarded his work, most probably because his theories contradict in certain areas Einstein’s relativity theories. But it may also be that his personal viewpoints on issues that are not relevent to astrophysics are contributing to the lack of attention he’s receiving.

    I hope you will read through his paper and verify the correlative data points. I live in Southern California and I’m concerned enough about this to leave shortly for much higher ground that has little or no volcanic activity.

    Thank you very much,

    MC

    1. astrobob

      Hello MC,
      I’ve commented on all these aspects of Elenin in blogs and in the Comments section, so I’ll be brief:

      * Comet Elenin is about to transverse through the ecliptic (from the north to south) on Sept 11, 2011. Do I have that correct?

      — It crosses the ecliptic plane moving north on September 14. It’s closest to the sun on September 10.

      * I’ve read but not verified that it’s coma is huge and may expand to larger than Jupiter before its at the closest point to Earth. What do you know about this aspect?

      — Yes, it’s approximately that size, but remember that a coma is extremely rarified gas and dust, not something solid. In any case, even if as big as Jupiter, it will be 22 million miles from Earth at closest. Jupiter is 88,000 miles in diameter.

      * I’m wondering if you know if NASA’s recorded speed and trajectory of Elenin’s path through the solar system matches what NASA expected for a body of Elenin’s purported mass and speed?

      — It matches. Elenin is a small, lightweight, friable object compared to a dense rocky planet, and it’s moving along its orbit as predicted.

      How unique is Elenin in terms of its size (including coma and tail), its composition and trajectories compard to other comets?

      — Comet Elenin is a typical small comet in all these regards. There are billions like it in deep space in a huge cometary reservoir called the Oort Cloud.

      Have you read Prof. Mensur Omerbashich’s correlative data regarding alignments of solar system bodies with Comet Elenin and major earthquakes during the last few years?
      http://lanl.arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1104/1104.2036.pdf

      — Yes and in my opinion, it’s junk science. No other professional astronomer or scientist I’m aware of places any credence in this idea. Extraordinary claims such as he makes require extraordinary proof, which is seriously lacking. I encourage you to read Ian Musgrave’s critique of Mensur’s paper: http://astroblogger.blogspot.com/2011/05/comet-2010-x1-elenin-earthquakes.html

      I live in Southern California and I’m concerned enough about this to leave shortly for much higher ground that has little or no volcanic activity.

      — Living in Southern Cal., of course you know all about earthquakes. They have a clear cause. The Pacific plate is moving in relation to the North American plate and where they rub — San Andreas Fault — earthquakes occur. The comet, a small icy object which is currently in the process of disintegrating, can’t even hold itself together let alone affect a massive planet like the Earth.

      1. ModelCitizen

        Thank you for your reply, Astro Bob. I’m sorry I just stumbled on your website doing internet searches and was not aware you had dealt with these areas previously. I will review your blogsite for your comments on the subject. Also, per your recommendation, I will read Ian Musgrave’s critique of Omerbashich’s paper. Until then, putting the unorthodox theoretical system theories of Omerbashich’s work aside, are you (and/or Musgrave) suggesting that the correlations between the time periods of recent solar system alignments (factored with or without Elenin’s co-alignments with the other solar system bodies) and recent large scale earthquakes could not be or are not causative or influential factors at least in terms of gravitational forces exerting ‘tidal’ force on the techtonic plates?

        Do you have a similar position regarding the assertions by geologist Jim Berkland regarding the moon’s gravitational influence in earthquake ‘triggering’ (for lack of better term) in specific phases of it’s cycle?

        Are you (and Musgrave) asserting that correlations of gravitational influence by other solar system bodies and/or the moon in regard to earthquakes are merely coincidental?

        Thanks, again.
        MC

        1. astrobob

          MD,
          The moon’s proximity to Earth gives it a very measurable gravitational influence. We see its tug on the tides every day. It also raises the crust of the Earth by an inch or so. Most quakes occur along tectonic plate boundaries and are due to internal forces, but I’ve read that some quakes might be caused by the moon. Scientists continue to debate this — some say Berkland’s studies are flawed but Berkland thinks otherwise.
          As for planets, comets and the like causing quakes, there is no sound scientific evidence to support it. Their gravitational influence is much, much weaker than that of the moon. Despite their larger masses, these objects are extremely far away. Gravitational force drops off with the square of the distance, so no, I don’t think they’re involved at all.

  6. Anthony From Mn

    Hi Astro Bob
    Im from Saint Paul Mn im sure youve been there i own a cabin in moose lake mn also my question is that is elenin going to hit the earth im sure you have heard it alot but i hear this i hear that i just want the truth and people say it matches the movie deep impact and its not disinigrating and its going to hit us so i want the real truth please

    1. astrobob

      Hello Anthony from MN! Here’s the real truth: It’s not going to hit the Earth. No way, no how and absolutely impossible. It’s plying its obedient orbital path as predicted. Thankfully real life is just that and not a movie.

        1. astrobob

          Anthony, No, I haven’t been there this year. All I do is work, hah! How’s the deep fried butter on a stick?

          1. Anthony From Mn

            lol haven tried that but i live close to university ave i went there 3 times in the last few days and the wine is wonderful! you and your family should go the best state fair in the USA you should be lucky to live in a state with a state fair so big and popular but i tired twinky on a stick for the first time lol

  7. dandona

    Astorbob thank u for replying to me but let me ask u this beside comet elenin , astride 2005yu55 if we said they r not going to hit earth is there is anything else you know of is going to hit us or cause catastrophic events to us and please answer me very honestly and if there is you can just email me the answer on private message but I beg you just tell me the truth, am diying from fear, thank u so much

  8. scared lady

    AstroBob, i hear that comets have never broken up before. Also the youtube vids have so much evidence and all other crap that this comet will cause chaos to the earth on the next alignment. Why is it that the last alingment is on December 21st, 2012 just as the same as the Mayan Calender? With these major alignments with comet Elenin there was a bigger earthquake every single time. Not the biggest in a month, but with the alignments, there were the biggest earthquakes of the year… These alignments are playing a role in the earthquakes, but not sure if its comet Elenin. Also if you youtube, they also talk about the Russian government being concerend that this comet will cause catastrophic events at the closest alignment. Can you please look these things up. I am also scared and suffering from Post Traumatic stress since the earthquake here in VA. I wont be able to rest until these alignment dates pass and it leaves our solar system.

    1. astrobob

      Kathrine and Scared Lady,

      All talk about comet alignments affecting Earth is untrue. There is not a shred of scientific evidence connecting alignments to catastrophic events on Earth. Comets are tiny compared to our planet. The gravitational effect of Comet Elenin on Earth is barely measurable. Sleep easy. You’ll soon see that all these dates will pass, the comet will move on and nothing will happen. You’ll also see that after the “dreaded” 2012 has come and gone, earthquakes and other horrible natural events that afflict humanity will continue unabated just as they have since the dawn of history. Their cause is to be found right here on our living, often unpredictable planet Earth. One final prediction: the doomsayers will continue to come up with kooky alignment dates long after Comet Elenin has moved on so they can keep the fear alive and promote ignorance (and possibly sell books). They’ve been doing this for thousands of years. Sadly, it will continue for thousands more. It’s your choice whether to believe the baloney or learn why things happen in nature using the best information we have available through science.

  9. jim

    Bob,

    Why on google sky is there a black out near virgo? You can zoom in and see bright lights eminating from behind the black out box. Why is NASA / Google sky blacking this area out?

    Thanks, jim

    1. astrobob

      Jim, I’ve written on this topic several times. It’s one of at least several spots where a chunk of data was lost when whoever created Google Sky stitched the frames together. It was not deliberately blocked — instead it’s an artifact of how the atlas was constructed. If you can get a hold of the original source, which appears to be the Palomar Sky Survey, you will find that the data is there. I’ve seen it. The piece of ‘missing sky’ appears much like the area around it. Here’s an accurate and great video on these ‘missing patches’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VZY115vfYk
      When that patch is viewed in infrared, there are a couple sources that are bright in infrared light when the photographs used for the atlas were made.

  10. jim

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your answer.. What is the celestial body in Leo? google sky leo / infared then pan to the right. Circle with wings?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jim, I don’t know what it is, but there are a lot of infrared sources in the sky. Wish I could find a catalog that might contain that source, so I could ID it for you and other readers who’ve asked.

  11. Kent

    The most absurd thing I have heard about Comet Elenin is that it is supposed to be a brown dwarf, which if I have my information correct, would be already be causing problems with the orbits of the planets by upsetting the balance of the solar system.

    Also, when it was in line with the earth with the sun in line with the sun in line behind the earth, wouldn’t it have been a bright naked eye object observable all night long like an outer planet at opposition? So there is no way we could ignore it as everyone would see it as it was just outside of 6 AU, just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. Wouldn’t that have made it brighter than Saturn?

    One more thing, a brown dwarf would not be coming in at a highly elliptical orbit like a comet, correct?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Kent — You’ve got it right. A star would be clearly detectable through its gravity as well as being plainly visible to the naked at such a close distance. You’re also correct about the orbit. Nice work!

  12. Paula

    It seems to me that all of the hooplah about Comet Elenin has been discredited. But I am hearing alot lately about solar flare activity. It is my understanding that we are in a period of increased solar activity which may be earth directed. The doomsdayers are out there saying this is the “real deal” and we need to be prepared to live without power from 1-3 years which would set us back 100’s of years and a great deal of the population would die of hunger. Any thoughts on this? Sorry if you have already addressed this but I just happened upon your sight. Thank you for all of your helpful information.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Paula,
      The key word you mentioned was “doomsday”. If you hear that word, you know exaggeration is involved. The sunspot cycle of high and low solar and flare activity is a normal occurrence that has been monitored for several hundred years. Indeed, we are more dependent on electronics now than ever before. That means that should a flare-related event on the sun damage a satellite or knock out a power grid temporarily, people would suffer. It’s even happened in the past (look up the grid that went out in Quebec in 1989). It doesn’t mean that everything will go down all at once — that’s a doomsday, Hollywood movie plot, not reality. This particular sunspot maximum is predicted to peak in May 2013. To solar astronomers’ best knowledge, the peak will be on the low end in terms of activity. Here’s a short piece on it: http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/predict.shtml

  13. Kent

    Thanks AstroBob. I based my view that Elenin would be bright naked eye object from looking at the alignment when it was lined up with the sun and the earth with the sun behind the earth in late February 2011. So, as I said, it is inside the orbit of Saturn and much bigger than Saturn so if it is a brown dwarf it would be brighter than an object that is as bright as a bright star and we need telescopes to see it at this relatively close distance? Also, it would have been even brighter since then when in fact it has been getting fainter.

    Personally, I am a Chirstian but I don’t have to check my brain at the altar as some of the end of the worlders seem to do at times.

    Ironic that those people shouting about the end of the world who happen to call themselves Christians just talk about doom and gloom and most of them, if not all of them, don’t say one word about the gospel of Jesus Christ. One would think that if the time was short, and I think that it could be the case, that they would want to share the gospel to the lost before it’s too late.

    One thing I am certain about is that Comet Elenin, not a brown dwarf, is going to be a non event and if the end of the ages is coming it has nothing to do with it.

  14. mike b

    So, I am in central il, and looking to the eastern sky as I type. There is a extremely bright elongated light in the eastern sky. And nowhere on the net is speaking of it. Do you have an explanation Bob? It’s 11pm cst.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Mike,
      You gave me everything I needed to know to identify what you saw. That’s the planet Jupiter! It ‘s been rising earlier and earlier through the summer and now appears in the eastern sky during the late evening. Nothing else bright is nearby, one of the reasons it stands out so prominently.

      1. mike b

        Thanks Bob. Last night while searching I couldn’t find much about Jupiter in the evening in September, but today I found quite a bit. Thank you sir. Its not quite as amazing tonight as it was last night…

        1. astrobob

          Your adventures with Jupiter have only begun, Mike. Get a pair of binoculars the next clear night and focus them closely on the planet. The tiny “stars” you see very close to Jupiter are some of its many moons. You can watch them move night to night as each orbits the planet at its own distance with its own orbital period. A small telescope shows the belts, Great Red Spot and the comings and goings of the moons’ shadows against the planet’s cloud tops. It’s a new show every night!

  15. Kent

    Mike, and Elenin would probably be even brighter than Jupiter if it was brown dwarf. I, like AstroBob, have been following Astronomy since I was a kid so last night I knew instantly when I saw it that the bright object in the east was Jupiter in the constellation of Aries.

    The reason that bright object is not mentioned on the Web is because we see it like that every year, no big deal, but if there was another bright object that no one had ever seen, that would be news.

    By the way, Venus is even brigther than Jupiter and it is also seen every year.

    I bet, if I wanted to be a jerk, I could start a rumor on the Web which a lot of naive people would believe that the object that everyone who knows anything about astronomy knows for sure is Juptier was instead Elenin and that our doom was on its way.

    But don’t worry, I myself have had enough of nonsense like the Elenin hysteria already.

    1. mike b

      Thank you also Kent. I have loved to gaze but never really studied astronomy much. I am fortunate to live in an area of the country where my view of the sky is not hampered by city lights and it is very relaxing to just sit on my deck and look at a full sky of stars…. I should invest in a telescope and study it a bit more.

    1. astrobob

      Miranda,
      No need to be scared. The comet won’t make a whit a difference in how the day plays out. It’s off on its own path doing what comets do.

  16. Gary

    Thanks Bob!!

    Heard the Elenin nonsense on local radio tonite and had to look thoroughly at what it was about.
    Mainly…MONEY!!
    Nuff said and thanks for the CLEAR thinking!!

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