Comet Elenin

StarDate: October 14, 2011

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.



It’s hard to believe, but not everything you see on the Web is true. Consider a comet that was passing through the inner solar system. If you believed the rumors in cyberspace, the comet would cause various cataclysms here on Earth, from massive tides and earthquakes to weird electrical disturbances. Others said it would block out the Sun, or that encounters with some unseen body would cause it to smack into Earth.

Baloney.

Comet Elenin will pass closest to Earth on Sunday, at a distance of about 21 million miles — about the same as the closest passages of the planet Venus. Or at least the remains of the comet will pass that close to us. It broke apart in late summer, and all that’s left are clumps of comet dust.

Elenin was just a couple of miles in diameter. And it was little more than a snowball mixed with rock and dirt. Such a tiny, lightweight object has no effect on Earth at all.

Before it could come anywhere near us, though, the comet simply vanished. In late August, a big eruption on the Sun caused Elenin to split apart. The smaller chunks quickly vaporized, leaving behind only some clouds of debris: comet dust.

Of course, the death of the comet won’t necessarily quell the Internet chatter. Some may claim that it was zapped by secret death rays from Earth, or that it plunged into a different dimension. Others may accept that Elenin was killed by the Sun — but have those rumors of doom and gloom simmering for the next comet.

 

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011

 

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

The one constant in the Universe: StarDate magazine

FacebookTwitterYouTube

©2014 The University of Texas McDonald Observatory