Bright Prospects for Comet Elenin?

It doesn't look like much now — just a tiny, 19th-magnitude smudge tucked away in southwestern Virgo — but a newly discovered comet could become something special 10 months from now.

Comet Elenin at 19th magnitude
Comet Elenin (C/2010 X1) appears as a tiny, faint smudge in this stack of four 300-second exposures taken on December 11, 2010, with the 1.5-m reflector at Maidanak Observatory. The quadrupled stars are due to the comet's motion between exposures.
Aleksei Sergeyev / Artyom Novichonok
Comet Elenin (C/2010 X1) made its debut on December 10th when Leonid Elenin, an observer in Lyubertsy, Russia, remotely acquired four 4-minute-long images using an 18-inch (45-cm) telescope at the ISON-NM observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. Follow-up images by Aleksei Sergeyev and Artyom Novichonok at Maidanak Observatory in Uzbekistan revealed more about the new find: it had a teardrop-shaped, very diffuse coma just 6 arcseconds across and a tiny tail.

What's gotten hearts beating a little faster since the discovery is that Comet Elenin is still more than 4 astronomical units (375 million miles) from the Sun and headed inbound. It's still early, and the calculated orbit is certain to change in the weeks ahead as more position measurements are made, but right now it appears that the comet's perihelion will occur well inside Earth's orbit, about 0.45 a.u. (42 million miles) from the Sun, next September 5th.

Right now, odds are that Comet Elenin will become an easy target for binoculars around mid-August and reach naked-eye visibility for a couple of weeks around perihelion. The comet's elongation from the Sun shrinks to just 1° following perihelion, but soon thereafter the comet gets enough separate to position itself nicely for viewing in the predawn sky.

Leonid Elenin
Amateur astronomer (and comet discoverer) Leonid Elenin lives near Moscow and is an accomplished optician who likes to observe asteroids and variable stars.
Tenagra Observatories
Moreover, it's traveling very near the ecliptic plane, and as it sweeps close to the Sun its sky location won't stray far from the ecliptic until mid-September, when the path arcs slowly northwestward through Leo. That's a plus for skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere.

Finally, because Comet Elenin passes between the Sun and Earth, there's a chance its dust tail might "light up" (via forward-scattered light) due to the large Sun-comet-Earth angle and put on a really good show. The last interloper to do this, Comet McNaught, dazzled southern skygazers in January 2007.

I'll update this story once the calculated orbit settles down, so please check back for the latest details.

15 thoughts on “Bright Prospects for Comet Elenin?

  1. Leonid Elenin

    Thanks to all!
    I hope what this comet will be bright. Perhaps, forward-scattering phenomena will be assist.

    And small correction – I’m not a optician.

  2. Graham

    Above it says right now it appears that the comet’s perihelion will occur well inside Earth’s orbit, about 0.45 a.u. (42 million miles) from the Sun, next September 5th.
    On
    http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=C%2F2010%20X1;orb=1;cad=0;cov=0;log=0#orb
    if you can view Java and let the Java image develop and use the fast forward >> button till the Date bottom Right get to Oct 18th 2011 then use the || to stop the image progressing the distance between Elenin and Earth is only 0.241 AU roughly 23,238,971.75 miles from Earth is that a safe distance, if it is a decent size Comet. or will it Double the Sun’s pull on the Earth, can Earth stand this one day event. maybe my Math’s is not that good and is this graph website a good one.
    Graham.

  3. John Van Allen

    Using an antique Keuffel & Esser transit screwed to a 3.5" pipe leaning over at an angle equal to my latitude and lying on the ground to look up through the 40mm scope I was able to get a very good and confortable view of this occultation. We measured a difference of 6 seconds (later than the prediction for disappearance) and 53 seconds (later than the prediction for reappearance) from our location prediction (DO141) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This was the only optical device available to me but I felt that the disappearance time was very accurate. The reappearance was harder due to the brightness of the moon but we feel it was within 3 0r 4 seconds. Being off the beaten track we hope the data may be useful.

    The star was mu Gem (tejat)

  4. Michael

    As I am looking for real evidence of this comet, I stumbled across the above photograph. I am a bit puzzled since that EXACT photograph is in a 2005 documentary "Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs". I am a bit shocked that Mr. Kelly Beatty did not bother to research his facts before posting this article. I would love for this comet to be real…my son just got a fairly nice telescope for his birthday…but so far, I am having a difficult time finding actual evidence of this comet aside from regurgitation of fact-less articles of paranoid delusionists quoting each other. Any leads in the right direction would be appreciated.

  5. MrGoodNamesTaken

    Does anyone know if due to the predicted increase in our sun’s activity will this cause the commet to melt and lose more of its mass?

    Hypothetically if it losses half of its mass will this change its predicted path which is currently in front of the Earth’s orbit of the Sun? …according to JPL at…

    http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=C%2F2010%20X1;orb=1;cad=1

    Could its speed change? Could it’s trajectory change based on a change in it’s mass size?

  6. MrGoodNamesTaken

    Does anyone know if due to the predicted increase in our sun’s activity will this cause the commet to melt and lose more of its mass?

    Hypothetically if it losses half of its mass will this change its predicted path which is currently in front of the Earth’s orbit of the Sun? …according to JPL at…

    http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=C%2F2010%20X1;orb=1;cad=1

    Could its speed change? Could it’s trajectory change based on a change in it’s mass size?

  7. Marv

    Planetary Alignments with Comet Elenin Causing Big Earthquakes
    http://www.ufo-blogger.com/2011/04/nasa-elenin-2011-comet-planetary.html
    Past Alignments
    Elenin – Earth – Sun 2/20/08 Indonesia 7.4
    Elenin – Earth – Sun 2/25/08 Indonesia 7.2
    Elenin – Earth – Neptune 5/12/08 China 7.9
    Elenin – Earth – Sun 2/18/09 Kermadec Islands 7.0
    Elenin – Earth -Jupiter 5/18/09 Los Angeles, US 4.7
    Elenin – Mercury- Earth 7/15/09 New Zealand 7.8
    Elenin – Mercury – Earth 8/09/09 Japan 7.1
    Elenin – Sun – Earth 9/9/09 Sunola islands 8.1
    Elenin – Earth – Venus 2/18/10 China/RU/N.Korea 6.9
    Elenin – Earth-Sun 2/25/10 China 5.2
    Elenin – Earth-Sun 2/26/10 Japan 7.0
    Elenin – Earth- Sun 2/27/10 Chile 8.8 [Earth knocked off axis]
    Elenin – Earth- Sun 2/27/10 Argentina 6.3
    Elenin – Earth – Mercury 3/4/10 Taiwan 6.3
    Elenin – Earth – Mercury 3/4/10 Vanuatu 6.5
    Elenin – Earth – Mercury 3/5/10 Chile 6.6
    Elenin – Earth – Mercury 3/5/10 Indonesia 6.3
    Elenin – Earth – Mercury 3/8/10 Turkey 6.1
    Elenin – Earth – Neptune 5/5/10 Indonesia 6.6
    Elenin – Earth – Neptune 5/6/10 Chile 6.2
    Elenin – Earth – Neptune 5/9/10 Indonesia 7.2
    Elenin – Earth – Neptune 5/14/10 Algeria 5.2
    Elenin – Earth – Jupiter 1/3/11 Chile 7.0
    Elenin – Earth – Sun 3/11/11 Japan 9.0 [Earth knocked off axis]

    Future Elenin Allurements:
    Elenin – Mercury – Mars – Earth 9/6/11
    Mercury – Sun – Elenin 9/25/11

    Sun – Elenin – Jupiter 10/11/11 — Elenin 0.246au from Earth; that’s a quarter of the distance to the sun.
    – 10/17/11 Elenin closet to earth 0.232au
    – 10/20/11 Elenin will enter Earth orbit and we will experience a gravitational pull.

    – 11/2/11 Earth enter Elenins tail/ previous path
    Venus – Earth- Elenin – Mercury 11/11/11
    Sun – Mercury – Earth – Elenin 12/4/11
    Mars – Elenin – Jupiter 12/25/11

    Last Alignment
    Elenin – Earth – Sun 12/21/12 (end of Mayan Calendar)

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