The Ghost Of Comet Elenin Haunts The Morning Sky

Comet Elenin is a very faint, elongated streak as photographed through a 4-inch refracting telescope early this morning from the GRAS network in New Mexico. The picture covers about 2 degrees from side to side. Credit: Rolando Ligustri

For those of you who checked yesterday’s blog, you already know that the German ROSAT (Roentgen X-ray satellite) burned up in the atmosphere last night between 8:45 and 9:15 p.m. CDT. To the best of my knowledge, after digging around various websites, it appears to have come down over the Indian Ocean north of the coral atoll Diego Garcia. Too bad there’s so much water on this planet otherwise we’d have lots more satellite parts and meteorites in our collections.

I wanted to share the most recent pictures of Comet Elenin with you. Amateur astronomers have been busy the past few mornings losing sleep photographing and trying to see the comet through their telescopes. The moon is out of the way and Elenin is presently high up in a dark sky after about 3 a.m. These are the conditions we’ve been waiting for for months! And finally, enough pictures have been taken to confirm that the comet is really there.

Another view of Comet Elenin taken this morning with a 10-inch wide-field telescope in Austria. Credit: Michael Jäger

The photos show a faint, elongated cloud of spreading comet dust, the last gasp of what was to be fall’s best bet for a bright comet. Its ghostly appearance hints at how difficult it’s been to see with one’s own eyes in a telescope. To date, only one observer – Juan Jose Gonzalez – has spotted this wispy remnant from his mountaintop observing site in northern Spain using an 8-inch telescope. Jacob Cerny of the Czech Republic is the second person to observe it, but it was so challenging, he listed his observation as “uncertain”.

Take a look at Elenin’s morphology or form. It reminds me of the Headless Horseman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Indeed, the head of the comet is no longer a separate entity as it was before the August breakup. All is one galloping streak of light.

Comet Elenin will continue along its orbit as it slowly moves farther from Earth with each passing day, fading and expanding as it does and likely to never return. Even though this demure object has been wrongly credited with causing earthquakes and other mayhem, the bright side has been a lively discussion of comets and other topics astronomical. These are good things.

Several readers have mentioned or made reference to Arcturus in recent days. I thought it would be an opportune time to give the star – the 4th brightest in the sky after Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri – one last evening farewell before we get up 11 hours later at dawn to welcome it back. What?

Use the handle of the Dipper to "arc" your way to Arcturus during the early evening. This map shows the sky facing northwest around 7:30 p.m. local time. Maps created with Stellarium

Arcturus, an orange giant star with a distinctive warm tint, hovers low in the northwestern sky off the handle of the Big Dipper on late October evenings. It’s best to catch it an hour or so after sunset during evening twilight when the star is high enough to see relatively easily. As dusk melts into darkness, try looking two outstretched “fists” directly above Arcturus for the little horseshoe-shaped constellation Corona Borealis the Northern Crown.

If you have an open view to the northeast during early dawn, you can watch Arcturus return to view - truly, a star for all seasons! This map shows the sky facing northeast around 6:15 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Arcturus makes its first evening appearance in late winter in the northeastern sky. By May and June, it’s high in the south at twilight’s end; its warm light has come to be associated with warming temperatures and the arrival of summer. In fall, the star drops off into the northwest and finally sets, but because nights are better than 12 hours long in late October, Earth’s rotation carries it back into view for observers in mid-northern latitudes. Watch for its winking red light in the northeast at dawn. In a sense, we never lose Arcturus.

The star’s northern location on the celestial sphere is also responsible for its continuous visibility. The closer a star is to the North Star – the pivot-point star due north that remains in one spot in the sky – the longer it remains visible. All stars within a circle with a radius the same as your latitude never set at all. They’re called circumpolar stars because they circle around the North Star day and night without ever touching the horizon. While Arcturus is not quite circumpolar for Duluth, Minn., the fortuitous combination of northerly location and long nights allow it to be seen every month of the year.

19 Responses

    1. astrobob

      Thank you Hazel. Yes, I grabbed a frame of that the other day. It was the first really definitive photograph. Now today there are several, so it’s nice to get confirmation.

      1. caralex

        There’s money to be made in certain quarters too, keeping the comet alive and selling DVD’s of ‘raising people’s awareness’. I kid you not!

  1. David

    Hey Bob. So… Her we go again. People are already blaming Elenin for the earthquake in Turkey. WOW! Anybody with a brain should already know that Turkey having earthquakes is often. Whats your take on this?

    1. astrobob

      David,
      My take is this: there’s not a shred of evidence that comets cause earthquakes and I agree, earthquakes are common in Turkey.

  2. David

    Hey Bob. Sorry to keep bothering you but my fiance just called me in a full on panic because someone told her something big was coming 11/11/11. Can you explain to her why nothing will happen. And ill show her your post. Please and Thank You

    1. astrobob

      David,
      A very small asteroid called 2005 YU55 will pass about 200,000 miles from Earth on Nov. 8. That’s a complete miss and there’s no danger. Nothing going on as far as I can tell on 11/11.

  3. David

    Bob i starting to panic myself now because i saw something saying the mayan calender ends october 28th. Am i being silly by freaking out?

    1. astrobob

      David,
      The Mayan calendar like all calendars is a man-made way of reckoning time. Nature runs on its own schedule and could care less. No sweating necessary.

    2. James

      This date is from Carl Johan Calleman and he does not interpret the date as an apocalypse, Armageddon, or other cataclysmic event but a slow transformation of consciousness in which people experience a higher “unity consciousness.” watever that means lol but its nothing to worry about the mayan calender is nothing to worry about its not a end of the world calender and alot of myans scholars believe the end date of it is next year some say its 2050 and so on so many dates and no one knows the true date it could have already ended and we dont know that and the mayan elders says its not nothin they dont understand why people making a big fuss about it

  4. Andrés Díaz V.

    Hi bob… Great web site you have here… Please, Can you give us a reference of where is the comet Elenin now?, some coordinates or any know star?… I know that almost imposible see it, but just to know where is in the sky… I saw many pictures of elenin but no reference about where to look in the sky. Thanks for advance.

    1. astrobob

      Andrés,
      I’ll try to add a little chart in tomorrow’s blog. For the moment I can tell you it’s west-central Gemini.

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