The Curious Case of Comet Elenin: A Weird Skywatching Tale
First, some background information:
Even as recently as Aug. 19, the comet was brighter than predicted, as observed and photographed by amateur astronomers in Australia, notably Michael Mattiazzo.
Then, disaster struck in the form of a coronal mass ejection from the sun. The next day the comet had dropped half a magnitude in brightness, and has continued to drop, despite the icy body getting closer to the sun.
Back when this was happening, many observers considered that the brightness of the sun made it appear that Elenin had dimmed, but in reality it was the same - only the sun obscured its view. Who knows - but there was intense debate on whether Elenin had actually 'dimmed' or not.
Meanwhile, this rather small and ordinary comet has become the subject of media frenzy among conspiracy theorists and 2012 doomsayers. Comet Elenin has been accused of being a brown dwarf or the mysterious and destructive planet "Nibiru," and has been blamed for earthquakes and tsunamis.
Actually, many skywatchers and amateur astronomers believe that "Nibiru" is coming behind Elenin by a couple of months, and will come into play in November.
Presently, no one knows because Elenin is behind the sun, thus the view is blocked, so for now everything is speculative.
Since then, the comet has been lost to view because of its faintness and its proximity to the sun in the sky.
If all had gone as planned, the comet would be moving into the field of view of one of the cameras on NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite on Friday (Sept. 23). If so, the big question is: what will SOHO see about this comet?
Hmmmm. That is certainly interesting. September 23rd. That would be today. Interesting coincidence.
Most people look at the images from SOHO for the rich information they supply regarding the sun. However, the wide-field images also show the sun against the starry background on the far side of the solar system.
This sky map of comet Elenin's path shows the situation on Friday, as the remains of the comet enter SOHO's field of view from the left. The bright stars Zaniah and Zavijava of western Virgo should be easy to see, but brilliant Mercury will dominate the images on the right.
Elenin will pass Zaniah on Sunday (Sept. 25) and Mercury on Tuesday (Sept. 27), before moving out of SOHO's field of view on Thursday (Sept. 29).
At this point, no one can predict exactly what we will see through SOHO's eyes in the coming week, but everyone will have the chance to watch using one of NASA's brightest eyes on the solar system.
So possibly beginning today and during the coming week, we should begin to receive more and more information regarding Elenin. Something to add to our watch list.
If comet Elenin survives its close encounter with the sun, it will become visible in morning twilight towards the end of the first week of October.
There you have it. We have finally reached a point where we will begin to get some definitive answers with Elenin. This is definitely worth watching.
But Elenin just marks the beginning of sky watching. Don't forget about YU55:
Huge Asteroid to Pass Near Earth in November
Mark your calendars for an impressive and upcoming flyby of an asteroid that’s one of the larger potentially perilous space rocks in the heavens – in terms of smacking the Earth in the future.
It’s the case of asteroid 2005 YU55, a round mini-world that is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) in diameter. In early November, this asteroid will approach Earth within a scant 0.85 lunar distances. [Photo of Asteroid 2005 YU55]
Due the object’s size and whisking by so close to Earth, an extensive campaign of radar, visual and infrared observations are being planned.
“The close Earth approach of 2005 YU55 on Nov. 8, is unusual since it is close and big.