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Comet Elenin is Now Fading Away

Comet Elenin on Sept. 14, 2011. It is now almost indiscernible. Image and annotated chart by Michael Mattiazzo. Used by permission

As far as Comet Elenin goes, the only chance of impending doom is for the comet itself: it is disintegrating and quickly fading away. Australian amateur astronomer Michael Mattiazzo has been monitoring this comet’s trip toward perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun), which occurred on September 10, 2011, and he says Comet Elenin has likely has not survived. The image above was taken by Mattiazzo on today (Sept. 14) and it is barely visible as a disintegrating smudge.

Comet Elenin – the comet that has created a hoopla of completely nonsensical, non-scientific doomsday predictions — faded dramatically after being hit by a solar flare on August 20, as we reported earlier. Subsequent images revealed a spreading, diffuse coma. It will likely continue to fade and become more diffuse.

Elenin’s mass is smaller than average and its trajectory will take it no closer than 34 million km (21 million miles) of Earth as it circles the Sun. It will make its closest approach to Earth on October 16th, but was closest to the Sun on Sept. 10.

“On the night of August 19th, I estimated the brightness of comet Elenin as magnitude 8.1 and it was on target for naked eye observability in September,” Mattiazzo wrote on his website, Southern Comets. “On the following night of the 20th, the comet had faded dramatically by half a magnitude and appeared more diffuse. This was a sign of impending doom for comet Elenin.”

Elenin is at about magnitude 10 now, and fading as it is in the process of disintegrating.

It failed to recover, (you can see a series of images taken between August 19 and September 11 on Mattiazzo’s website), with the comet’s the nucleus taking on an elongated appearance with progressive fading.

Comet Elenin on Sept. 11, 2011. 20x10second exposures taken with a C11 SCT and Starlight Express MX7c CCD imager. Credit: Michael Mattiazzo. Used by permission

“Such acts of disruption are all too common for small comets that have close encounters with the Sun,” Mattiazzo said.

One of the most spectacular examples of a comet breaking apart occurred in July 2000 when comet C/1999 S4 LINEAR disintegrated and several observatories had a good view of the action.

A closeup photo of the breakup of Comet S4 LINEAR taken on August 6, 2000 by the European Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. Credit: ESO

Elenin is now nearly in an inferior solar conjunction, where it will be directly between the Earth and the Sun (so we won’t be able to see it due to the brightness of the Sun). Another amateur astronomer from Australia, Ian Musgrave, says it is doubtful that it will be bright enough to see in the cameras from the Sun-orbiting SOHO spacecraft, and that we will probably have to wait until October when the comet moves away from the Sun for powerful Earth-based telescopes to try and find if any of the comet survives.


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous September 18, 2011, 3:37 AM

    Can someone please educate me on the Elenin as a neutron star variant theory? Is this possible? I posted this a day or so ago and it appears to have been deleted, along with a similar question from Belita. I truly appreciate the educated responses on this site. Thanks.

  • GothiqueDeath13 September 18, 2011, 5:24 PM

    Dammit! I WANTED to “die” as some said we would… HAHAHAHAAAA! sorry losers! It turns out earth lives another day… Then comes a 5 ton sattelite, and 10/21/11, then 12/21/12, and others soon to come…. HELLO!? Since the world is ending… I better start that band now….

  • kristy schweinfurth September 19, 2011, 1:37 AM

    All I can say is take that you Dooms Day You -tuber’s now they look like “BOOB -Tuber’s”.LOL. Thank God for people like you that believe in facts and not trying to lie or play mean pranks on people. Unfortunately, there are to many gullible American’s out there… my roommate is one of them. Maybe this will help wake him up a little.

  • James September 20, 2011, 8:59 AM

    Well how do you explain the fact its been visible for the last few clear nights over NZ? I saw it and 2 other comets or maybe it in 3 pieces and with the naked eye. Left of the sun 20 minutes or so before sunset tonight, Sept 20th. Large as life you might say

    • Anonymous September 20, 2011, 7:40 PM

      If Elenin was a naked-eye object, as you claim, there would be photos of it (clearly showing it’s naked-eye status) all over the internet, not to mention reports from experienced comet observers heralding an unexpected increase in brightness and a call for further observations. Professional astronomers (and NASA) would be most interested too!

      I await photo confirmation of a “naked-eye” Comet Elenin taken around Sept. 20.

  • Vizer Ptc September 20, 2011, 5:30 PM

    wow BTW i did make some photos like this but in Photoshop you may like my work :)

  • noworris September 20, 2011, 6:56 PM

    Your link to photographs of Elenin takes me to a site http://members.westnet.com.au/mmatti/sc.htm with a section about the comet but there is only one old photograph of it. I am an interested observer not of the “doom and gloom” crowd who are getting rich selling survival gear by the way.
    In the section marked “Current Comets” only Elenin is listed. According to other websites there are several comets in or close to our solar system so if this is being used here as reputable information I have to say it is incomplete.

  • Anonymous September 21, 2011, 2:47 AM

    I doubt we’ve seen the last of this comet (if it is a comet). Keep your eyes to the skys….

    • Anonymous September 21, 2011, 9:34 AM

      So what else would it be?

      Brown dwarves are about the size of Jupiter if I remember correctly. We would see this already. Also if it had a huge mass it would have effected Saturn when it passed by it. Guess what, it didn’t affect Saturn at all.

      The comet is not orbiting a rogue planet or anything else, since we’d be able to pretty easily tell by it rotating around something.

      Nothing is hiding in its tail, well because the tail always points away from the sun therefore it would be pretty easy to tell if something were hiding behind it.

  • Ossy Igwilo September 21, 2011, 7:12 AM


  • Anonymous September 22, 2011, 9:13 PM

    but wait…What about Elenins tetrahedral SHIELD!!! According to one of the better known masters of all things conspiratorial It is either a ship or a TIME capsule that we sent to ourselves 13,000 yrs ago! I reddit on da intardnet so I knows it must be da truth!! AND dis particular Master of all things wouldn’t make this stuff up! I mean why would he? He is supposed to be doing some conference this Friday and has said that he will reveal all his proof, if you can’t attend in person all ya gotta do is sign up and pay a small non-refundable fee to be able to live stream the event! I think the ticket price is $19.50 ….!!!

  • Steve Bergman September 24, 2011, 7:21 AM

    No doubt what really happened is that the CIA activated the secret laser weapon they had put on SDO to blow Elenin up while no one could see. Either that, or the UFO’s zapped it.

    And it is a sad reflection upon the general state of affairs on the Internet that I feel I need to make it clear that the above was a joke. :-/

  • me me September 24, 2011, 8:03 AM

    Hey dumby it has not come yet and is bigger than comet …so what BS now ???

  • Anonymous September 24, 2011, 11:04 PM

    The top photos are not even comparable photos. They cannot be used to compare Elenin’s position.

  • Anonymous September 25, 2011, 7:27 AM

    you know, its so easy to sit back in our arm chairs and be fatalistic, or to pretend that we know so much that we can just poke fun at others who may get a little too excited over things like comet elenin, or to poke fun at a poor roommate that concerns themselves enough to wonder what if anything all the scaremongering is really all about when it comes to NEO’s like elenin.what all of you so called big brains and opportunistic fun pokers are failing to realize is the fact that the darn thing is scheduled and factored to come within twenty million miles or so of the only planet we have. That is a hairsbreadth in all of the vastness of space.And we should keep an eye on this so called non entity because all it would take is one fairly large piece of it to impact in the pacific to wipe out life as we know it. Sure, it seems to be breaking up.Yes, it is losing some apparent magnitude as it approaches perihelion. All comets do, due to the increased dissipation rate as it approaches the star. But the thing we should really be concerned about is what is goingto happen to the calves when they come around perihelion and begin to experience decay or transition in their trajectories. Lets hope it really is a near miss, and not a surprise that we really dont want or need. All of you who poke fun at others who dont know as much or may be a little weaker minded or emotion prone just might be in for a hard permanent lesson in humility respect for a universe that can turn deadly in a heartbeat. Heres to hoping we all make it through the trajectory of elenins debris field intact!

    • Anonymous September 28, 2011, 6:51 PM

      — All of you who poke fun at others who dont know as much or may be a little weaker minded or emotion prone just might be in for a hard permanent lesson in humility respect for a universe that can turn deadly in a heartbeat. —

      Wahaha, yeah we saw the alignment of Elenin that would put the Earth for 3 whole days in global darkness and have world wide 10+ earth quakes and Volcano’s and tsunamis and and and…. And on top of that we also had a Super Moon alignment or something like that. And all we got was this lousy 5.4 magnitude Earth quake and a 3 days of boredom.

      Maybe you should come back to reality.
      Any wild claim of comet Elenin was already doomed to failure big time. And you even don’t have to be smart to see that one coming, just a teeny weenie bit of physics knowledge. Stuff you learn when you are 15 in school.

  • Anonymous September 25, 2011, 8:32 AM

    If only so many people could get as excited about the recent evidence that neutrinos can travel faster than light and that the fabric of space is not even in all directions, but I guess cringing in your cave is a better survival trait than going outside to look at the pretty lights.

  • FERNANDO September 26, 2011, 1:04 AM

    come on, you doomsday mongers, have your say. where are the alignment earthquakes you fatfully sold to the public? Hide your faces now. what a shame

  • dashty falah September 26, 2011, 5:21 AM

    That’s not the first time that they say THE WORLD WILL GONNA END!! don’t you have some thing else to do except making people think of the end of the world?! live your life because nobody knows when it will ends.

  • The Doc September 26, 2011, 7:20 AM

    There is a lot of information out there, some fact some fiction yet enough facts to raise my antennas. Something is up even if Elenin is just a decoy, solar system planetary unrest most noticable Earth of course. I have faith in the Bible and it does seem that we are in the end times. Keep the Faith, stay on the narrow path, put God first, Love and serve His children. See what Happens?

  • Anonymous September 26, 2011, 4:27 PM

    I don’t care what an amateur astronomer like Michael Mattiazzo thinks, I want to hear what professional astronomers have to say!

  • Anonymous September 26, 2011, 4:58 PM

    Can somebody tell me what would happen if Elenin had come within 20 million miles of the earth before heading towards the sun? And lets say that there was an alignment during around that time as well?

    Please leave out the conspiracy theorist jibes, it’s stupid. We all know governments, co-orperations and armed forces always tell the truth.