Comet Elenin has sparked more than its fair share of doomsday talk over the past few months, but it looks as if 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 Sept. 10, and he says Comet Elenin has likely has not survived. It's barely visible as a disintegrating smudge in an image taken by Mattiazzo on Wednesday.
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 Aug. 20, as we reported earlier. Subsequent images revealed a spreading, diffuse coma. It will likely continue to fade and become more diffuse.
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Elenin’s mass is smaller than average, and its trajectory will take it no closer than 21 million miles (34 million kilometers) of Earth during this orbit of the sun. It will make its closest approach to Earth on Oct. 16.
“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 Aug. 19 and Sept. 11 on Mattiazzo’s website), with the comet’s nucleus taking on an elongated appearance with progressive fading.
“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.
Elenin is now nearly in an inferior solar conjunction, where it will be directly between Earth and the sun. During that time, 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. We will probably have to wait until October, when the comet moves away from the sun, for powerful Earth-based telescopes to find out if any of the comet survives.
This report was originally published by Universe Today as "Comet Elenin Is Now Fading Away."
Copyright © 2013 Universe Today. Republished with permission.