EarthSky // Blogs // Space EarthSky May 09, 2011

Don Yeomans with the truth about Comet Elenin

Comet Elenin will sweep past Earth in late 2011. NASA’s Don Yeomans says its passage is nothing unusual and no dramatic events are expected.

You might have heard of Comet Elenin, which will sweep into the inner solar system in the northern hemisphere fall of 2011.

For some reason astronomers don’t understand, this comet has been associated by doomsdayers with various prophecies (“Thirst and famine when the comet will pass.” – Nostradamus: Century 2, Quatrain 62). Yet it is only an ordinary comet after all. At its closest point, Elenin will pass 35 million kilometers (22 million miles) from us, or nearly 100 times the moon’s distance, according to Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He said:

That is what happens with these long-period comets that come in from way outside our planetary system. They make these long, majestic, speedy arcs through our solar system, and sometimes they put on a great show.

Yeomans said that Elenin might not put on a great show, however, and that, at present, it looks “kind of wimpy.” Comet Elenin should be at its brightest shortly before the time of its closest approach to Earth on October 16, 2011.

Trajectory of Comet Elenin. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Leonid Elenin, an observer in Lyubertsy, Russia, first spotted Comet Elenin on Dec. 10, 2010. He made the discovery remotely – that is, by using a telescope in another part of the world, in this case the ISON-NM observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico.

At the time of the discovery, the comet was about 647 million kilometers (401 million miles) from Earth. Over the past four and a half months, the comet has – as comets do – closed the distance to Earth’s vicinity as it makes its way closer to perihelion (its closest point to the sun). As of May 4, 2011, Elenin’s distance was about 274 million kilometers (170 million miles).

Why does Yeomans think this comet might turn out to be “wimpy,” after all?

We’re talking about how a comet looks as it safely flies past us. Some cometary visitors arriving from beyond the planetary region – like Hale-Bopp in 1997 – have really lit up the night sky where you can see them easily with the naked eye as they safely transit the inner solar system. But Elenin is trending toward the other end of the spectrum. You’ll probably need a good pair of binoculars, clear skies, and a dark, secluded location to see it even on its brightest night.

Comet Elenin on May 5, 2011 when it was 170 million miles (274 million kilometers) from Earth. Each picture is a combination of frames taken through green, red, and infrared filters. The stars appear as 3 separate images because the comet moved between each frame. Via astronomers Paul Weissman, Michael Hicks, and James Somers. Hicks and Somers were using the 24-inch (0.6-meter) AstroMechanics Telescope and CCD camera at JPL's Table Mountain Observatory.

How about the stories circulating on the Internet about Elenin? Can this icy interloper influence us from where it is or where it will be in the future? What about this celestial object inspiring some shifting of the tides or even tectonic plates here on Earth? There have been some incorrect Internet speculations that external forces could cause Comet Elenin to come closer. Yeomans disagrees.

Comet Elenin will not encounter any dark bodies that could perturb its orbit, nor will it influence us in any way here on Earth. It will get no closer to Earth than 35 million kilometers [about 22 million miles].

Comet Elenin will not only be far away, it is also on the small side for comets. And comets are not the most densely-packed objects out there. They usually have the density of something akin to loosely packed icy dirt. So you’ve got a modest-sized icy dirtball that is getting no closer than 35 million kilometers. It will have an immeasurably miniscule influence on our planet. By comparison, my subcompact automobile exerts a greater influence on the ocean’s tides than comet Elenin ever will.

Yeomans did have one final thought on Comet Elenin:

This comet may not put on a great show. Just as certainly, it will not cause any disruptions here on Earth. But there is a cause to marvel. This intrepid little traveler will offer astronomers a chance to study a relatively young comet that came here from well beyond our solar system’s planetary region. After a short while, it will be headed back out again, and we will not see or hear from Elenin for thousands of years. That’s pretty cool.

NASA detects, tracks, and characterizes asteroids and comets passing relatively close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them, and predicts their paths to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

Bottom line: Comet Elenin will be at its brightest right before coming closest to Earth – 22 million miles away – on October 16, 2011. Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said it will have an “immeasurably miniscule influence” on Earth, but will provide astronomers the opportunity to study a relatively young comet.


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14 Responses to Don Yeomans with the truth about Comet Elenin

  1. [...] Found this to be a pretty interesting read about a NASA guy's take on this. Time will tell for sure though. Don Yeomans with the truth about Comet Elenin | Space | EarthSky [...]

  2. howard says:

    ASTROPATRIOT google him he is a real person he owns a real skywatcher telescope and like Mr. Yeomans he sounds like he knows what he is doing he has been taken off facebook and no one knows why he says and proves it with several serious photographs that where Yeomans says comet elenin is a brown dwarf exists whats up with that???????????????????????????

  3. Kevin Heider says:

    There are a lot of conspiracy and fear mongering types exploiting this comet.

    What would a brown dwarf look like if it was at the same distance as Saturn? Here is a photo of Saturn and the moons Iapetus, Titan, Dione, Hyperion, and Rhea with a 12.5-inch telescope. As you can see, Saturn is very obvious!

    If Jupiter was 5,000AU from the Sun (1,000 times farther than it is), it would be magnitude 28 and you would need one of the most powerful telescopes in the world to see it. Any planet/brown dwarf near the inner solar system would be very bright. Brown dwarfs are ~13x the mass of Jupiter and about the physical size of Jupiter (but with a higher density). An object with 2x the mass of Jupiter would be a massive planet. Elenin is now 2AU from the Earth and Jupiter never comes closer than 3.9AU from the Earth. if Elenin was a brown dwarf (or a planet 2x the mass of Jupiter) it would appear a lot like Jupiter even in the smallest of telescope using a magnification of only 50x. A brown dwarf reflects light just like a planet. A brown dwarf at the same distance as Saturn would be one of the brightest objects in the sky.

  4. Deborah Byrd says:

    I would be interested in hearing where you got this information … it is not true. Earth has passed through the tails of comets in the past with no ill effects. The most famous one was probably in 1910, when we passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet.

    - Deborah

  5. [...] brown dwarf star. In the words of Donald Yeomans from JPL, the data revealed that Elenin was “kind of wimpy.” and there is nothing to be concerned about. So there is a paradox here over what JPL is [...]

  6. [...] brown dwarf star. In the words of Donald Yeomans from JPL, the data revealed that Elenin was “kind of wimpy.” and there is nothing to be concerned about. So there is a paradox here over what JPL is [...]

  7. Joseph Brown says:

    I have been doing some research regarding Comet Elenin. I checked with the International Astronomical Union to verify the documentation of this comet, I also searched the website under Comet Elenin’s astronomical name (C/2010X1), The search result stated, “Did not match any documents”. However, when I entered a search for Hale-Bopp, the IAU result gave information about this
    comet, Please ask Donald Yoemans to explain this discrepancy. Thank, JRB 6-19-11

  8. Ron Mader says:

    Arghh! I just saw a terrible show on Mexican TV – Tercer Milenio – that included a screenshot of this page, implying that there is scientific consensus about the dangers that await us.

  9. Beckma says:

    Previously, with other comets, NASA has always provided a lot of information, such as viewing, etc. Every news station on T.V. was showing the location and pictures. With this comet, it seems news and NASA have been closed-mouthed about it.. no information at all. There have been pictures of the comet taken from the southern hemisphere with cameras.. clearly visible as a fire rocket. It is not visible is not the truth.. and the secrecy is causing a lot of fear. On top of that, FEMA is setting up an emergency system being tested on November 16, 2011, for the first time in history. It is said Obama brought troops home to train for preparation of Marshall Law. There are so many things, so many questions, so many lies, and so much secrecy. No wonder many people have a bad feeling in their guts about this one. Is there any way to break through the bull-crap and get to the truth?

  10. Richard Saunders says:

    Your governments are not going to tell you what you deserve to know so you won’t panic, so you can either panic now or later. You need to learn, watch and think for yourselves. If we are neaded for an ELE there’s not much you can do about it except seek God and pray.

  11. I have read so many articles about the blogger lovers
    but this article is in fact a pleasant piece of writing, keep it up.

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