Where’s My Doomsday? Remnants of Comet Elenin Pass by Earth Without Incident

by Nancy Atkinson on October 17, 2011

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Image taken with the 2m Faulkes North Telescope of the region of sky where Comet Elenin should have been. Field of view 10 arc minutes across. Stack of up to 13 Bessel R band filtered images (20s) Limiting Magnitude 20.5. Image: (c) Nick Howes, Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero/LCOGT/Faulkes Telescope Project. Used by permission

If you were waiting for Comet Elenin to wreak havoc on Earth so that you didn’t have to pay off your credit card debt or go into work today, I’m sorry to inform you that doomsday didn’t happen. All that remained of Comet Elenin, — which wasn’t much — made its closest pass by Earth yesterday (Oct. 16, 2011) without causing any earthquakes, tsunamis, or high tides and it didn’t collide with Earth, either. Moreover, there was no brown dwarf or Mothership hidden in the comet’s coma. And in case you didn’t notice, this comet did not cause three days of darkness around September 26, 2011.

“I don’t know why fearmongers chose my comet,” the comet’s discoverer Leonid Elenin told Universe Today. “I received many letters from scared people. But if they believe in conspiracy theories I can’t help them.”

For some reason, conspiracy and doomsday theorists chose this small little comet — one that was to come no closer to Earth than 34 million km (21 million miles) during its closest approach on October 16th – to be the harbinger of doom.

But here we are, just fine.

Well, except for wars, terrorism, global warming and other things that the human race inflicts on itself. There are enough bad things going on here on planet Earth that conspiracy theorists shouldn’t fabricate doomsday predictions just to needlessly scare people for fun and profit.

So why didn’t Comet Elenin cause doomsday?

1. It couldn’t have hit Earth, or affected Earth’s orbit. The comet was predicted to come 34 million km (21 million miles) away at its closest approach. Just in case you can’t figure that out, one object can’t hit another at that distance. Plus, the gravity exerted by a small object won’t affect Earth either. To put this in perspective, this distance is only a little closer than the closest approach of Venus to Earth, and roughly 100 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Nothing happens to Earth when Venus is at closest approach, and Venus is 12,000 kilometers in diameter, while Elenin was 3-5 kilometers across. When the comet was intact it had less than a billionth of the tidal force of the Moon.

Where Comet Elenin should have been in the sky on October 16, 2011 shows nothing left of the the distinegrated comet, and all that is visible are star trails. Credit: Ian Musgrave, using the Global Rent-a-Scope.

2. Comet Elenin fell apart. Sometimes, long period comets that originate from the outer parts of our solar system begin to dissipate as they get closer to the Sun. But Elenin was hit by solar flares from the Sun on August 19 and began disintegrating. When it reached its closest point to the Sun on September 10, it basically was toast. Just recently the location of where the comet should be has become visible in the night sky, out of the Sun’s glare. Several images from different amateur astronomers show absolutely nothing. The comet has completely disintegrated and fallen apart.

Earlier today, astronomer Nick Howes and his colleagues using the 2 meter Faulkes telescope took 30 minutes worth of exposures and saw nothing of Comet Elenin in the sky (top image). “We observed objects at magnitude 20.5, but saw no trace at all of Comet Elenin,” Howes told Universe Today. “If it had stayed together, it should have been almost visible with the naked eye now.”

3. What is left of the comet won’t cause problems, either. The average density of a comet’s coma is about the same as the density of the atmosphere on the Moon, and any rocks or debris that might be left over from the comet are small enough that they would burn up in Earth’s atmosphere if Earth does go through the wake of the coma or debris from the comet. And remember, several times a year Earth goes through the debris from comets and all that happens is we get beautiful meteor showers to enjoy.

And after this, don’t worry about Comet Elenin or its leftovers. Earth won’t pass through it again for another 12,000 years.

So move along, folks, nothing here. Comet Elenin is just another doomsday that didn’t happen, just like NASA, Leonid Elenin, and many other people said.

And if you proudly claim you aren’t a sheeple and are now just waiting and searching for the next doomsday theory to hang your every hope upon, why don’t you try expending your energy on this: Enjoy every day on this beautiful planet and live your life in its fullest. Use real science and learn to think critically. And perhaps you could be a person who could help come up with solutions to some of the real problems on planet Earth.

(And by the way, don’t worry about Oct. 21, 2011 (Harold Camping makes another prediction) or Dec. 21, 2012 (Mayan calendar) either. Same story.)

Second image source: Astroblog by Ian Musgrave

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Anonymous October 17, 2011 at 7:49 PM

One of the causes was that silly NASA applet that showed bent orbits. Brain-dead people would find that as something real.
Another thing that the hoaxers did was only show you the top view of the solar system.
And of course from the top view it gives the illusion that it crosses Earth.

Lights in the Dark October 17, 2011 at 8:16 PM

But I checked my 2011 Mayan calendar and it said…..

Anonymous October 17, 2011 at 8:32 PM

But but but, the Mayan calender is perfect. It can’t be wrong.

So I will use the Harold Camping excuse, it really did happen, but in an spiritual way. …

Lights in the Dark October 19, 2011 at 12:33 AM

We actually WERE destroyed by Elenin, but in another Universe. In this one we continue on as if nothing happened. Everyone wins/loses!

Anonymous October 19, 2011 at 6:00 PM

That is a nice one.
I have to add this to my list of excuses!

Anonymous October 17, 2011 at 9:21 PM

Grins and gruntszuh… Thanks for this update Nancy~ Does anyone else see the resemblance to 9-9-9 economics? i.e.You gotta be kidding! LOL!

Anonymous October 17, 2011 at 9:29 PM

Still… I’m kind of bummed out that I didn’t get to see my 46th comet… dzzz…

Anonymous October 18, 2011 at 6:19 AM

Aqua4U your comment is a bizaare and feeble attempt to connect politics to scifi conspiracy theorists. Herman Cain is a real viable candidate with fresh ideas. Obama and his Marxist ideas would be a better comparison when it comes to those who are out of touch with reality. Do you really think that more stimulus money is going to stimulate job growth? Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. By the way, it was Obama who shut down the shuttle program and any hopes of going to the moon. When he appointed Charles Bolden to head NASA he told him, that his most important objective as head of NASA was to “reach out to the Muslim world and make sure they get credit for their contributions to Space Science.” Talk about Bizarro World! Let’s take one of the most important American Scientific Research Facilities of our time and enforce a sort of global affirmative action in which a group of people is credited for virutally doing nothing! If you want to make political comments such as the one you posted, you might want to consider that as a Democrat, you live in one huge glass house right now!

Anonymous October 18, 2011 at 11:01 PM

Ooops! Sorry…. wrong forum.

Lights in the Dark October 19, 2011 at 12:34 AM

I do believe the shuttle program was canceled during the Bush years

Anonymous October 19, 2011 at 3:20 AM

Yes it was cancelled while GWB was President. Considerable action was taken to extend the shuttle program long enough to get the Hubble space Telescope serviced and the antimatter detector on the ISS.

LC

Anton October 18, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Time now to look for Nibiru next year

Heber Rizzo October 18, 2011 at 8:09 AM

Basically, there is no difference between Elenin scam and anthropogenic global warming scam.

Anonymous October 18, 2011 at 1:03 PM

NO!!! If you understod anything about how scientific thought and methods you would not make this comparison.

LC

squidgeny October 18, 2011 at 1:50 PM

I like how Elenin’s a scam, now. How does that even work?

Vitia October 18, 2011 at 11:08 AM

I am “sincerely disappointed”.

Anonymous October 18, 2011 at 3:00 PM

The Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast (episode #4) has a great outline of why this comet posed no risk to the Earth and what the nuts were saying about it. Check it out, it’s a really good podcast, for those who are interested: http://podcast.sjrdesign.net/archives.html

noworris October 18, 2011 at 3:20 PM

It’s a fact a few fortunes were made by fear-mongerers if only from the ad space on their webpages so I imagine that it being boloney is a bonus to them as they get to enjoy their profits.

Anonymous October 19, 2011 at 12:12 AM

I like the new angle the doomers are going on about since the Earth was not struck/destroyed. That the comets disintegration was the result of either

a) nuclear weapon
b) energy shield
c) aliens

Cognitive dissonance is alive and well.

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