So-So Prospects for Comet Elenin

Last December, comet-lovers got a bit of an adrenaline rush when they learned that a new object, Comet Elenin (C/2010 X1), might reach naked-eye brightness a week or so after it reaches perihelion on September 10th.

Comet Elenin on March 14, 2011
Here's how Comet Elenin (arrowed)) appeared on March 14, 2011, in a stack of CCD images taken remotely with a 6-inch f/7.3 refractor from Tzec Maun Observatory in Australia.
G. Sostero and E. Guido
It's still early in the game, but reports from visual and photographic observers over the past few weeks have tempered expectations somewhat.

Those looking for Comet Elenin by eye have found it elusive. Only two observers — Jakub Koukal, using a 9½-inch (24-cm) reflector in the Czech Republic; and Juan José González Suárez, using an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain in Spain — feel certain they glimpsed it by eye in early April. But it was a no-show for comet-hunter Alan Hale, who had a larger telescope at a pitch-black site 7200 feet (2200 m) up.

Another consideration is that the visual estimates (magnitude 15.3 and 14.9, respectively) are at odds with CCD observations suggesting something no brighter than magnitude 16. Such differences would make sense if Comet Elenin were somewhat diffuse, but everyone agrees that it's strongly condensed and almost stellar in appearance.

Koukal and González are veteran observers who carefully checked their sightings against faint nearby stars. Even so, former S&T columnist John Bortle, who's watched comets come and go for more than 50 years, is skeptical of visual sightings made at the hairy edge of a telescope's capability. "I can cite many instances of 'positive' observations turning out to be spurious, even when made by experienced observers," he notes.

Light curve for Comet Elenin
Observations of Comet Elenin to date suggest that it will brighten to about 6th magnitude by September 2011.
Seiichi Yoshida
For now, who can or can't see it doesn't matter much, as the interloper is still heading inward and won't get seriously worked up for several months. But the comet cognoscenti have already started calling it "intrinsically faint," and it's becoming clear that hopes for a nice eyeball-easy showing have dimmed considerably.

Best guesstimates now suggest that Comet Elenin's total brightness might peak near magnitude 6 in mid-September — a nice binocular object — presuming that it survives its dash through perihelion just 45 million miles (0.48 astronomical unit) from the Sun.

Meanwhile, you have my permission to ignore or refute any of the wacky postings about the supposed danger posed by Comet Elenin. All this nonsense seems to have started back in January, when edge-of-reality blogger Laura Knight Jadczyk made provocative warnings — all based on information from a member of her research team who's "an astronomer at a large observatory". (Yea, right.) It's not even worth giving you a link to her ramblings.

14 thoughts on “So-So Prospects for Comet Elenin

  1. Kevin Heider

    Given how dim this comet *might* be (mag 6 which is near the limit of the human eye at a very dark location), casual observers will want to have access to 7×50 or 15×70 binoculars. Binoculars will give a MUCH BETTER view of the tail then any telescope will. It will also be much easier to locate the comet in the sky with binoculars.

    — Kevin Heider

  2. Bob Rieger

    I enjoyed the article about Comet Elenin and was intrigued by your last paragraph reference to Laura Jadczyk. I had never heard of her so after some internet searching I learned more than I ever cared to learn about this charletan.

    It’s really sad there are people like her to take advantage of the emotionally (and perhaps physically) drained element of our society. She mixes all the nutty pseudo-scientific conspiricies currently in vogue with legitimate religous beliefs, oblique and sexy language like "The fourth meredian" and other silliness and markets it to vulnerable individuals.

    I can only conclude one of two things about Laura- either she is seriously deranged or she and her husband "Ark" stay up late at night laughing about what they are doing to people while making money.

    For her sake I hope it is the former.

    The universe is wonderful and exciting in it’s actual reality- when will people learn you don’t have to embellish it with nonsense to make it more attractive?

  3. Piotr

    To the best of my knowledge no scientific article should contain personal opinion (especially one attacking or discrediting another individual). Instead, it should contain arguments supported by raw data. The fact that the author chose to "make fun" of another individual – better yet, to do so without providing supporting arguments reflected in RAW DATA, not opinion – is proof enough that either a) S&T is an outlet for pseudo-scientists voicing their personal views, or b) S&T has an agenda other than providing its readers with pure, unobstructed and unaltered view of the Universe.
    Regardless of which one it is, having read Immanuel Velikovsky’s and James McCanney’s works, it appears the two authors, along with aforementioned Laura Knight-Jadczyk, have the raw data on their side.
    Because of the above, I will not be renewing my subscription to S&T. The monthly sky map is simply not worth the price.
    Best regards,

  4. Kevin Heider

    Piotr, Elenin is not a brown dwarf. This average sized long-peroid comet is not Tyche, Nemesis, or Nibiru. Alignments of Elenin with the Earth and Sun are not causing Earthquakes. On average there is a quake greater than magnitude 7 just about every month. Elenin will not crash into the Earth or flip the poles. The comet passing between the Sun and Earth will not cause coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that threaten the Earth. Near solar maxima the Sun produces about 3 CMEs every day, whereas near solar minima there is about 1 CME every 5 days.

  5. cry-wolf

    …checked out the blogger you mentioned…

    What mrs. Knight-Jadczyk’s ouija board has to say about comet Elenin:

    Q: Next question. Will Comet Elenin interact with and cause a major disruption of earth this year?

    A: Possible yes.

    A: Elenin is already taking its toll.

    Q: How big is it?

    A: 500km diameter along the long axis.

    Q: At least it’s not Venus…

    A: It is growing.

    Q: Anything else about it?

    A: And that is only the core.

    Q: Yeah, and the tail… Anything else on Elenin? We’ll have to wait and see? Are we going to see a return of the Black Death?

    A: Extremely likely.

    Q: In Europe first? Where’s it gonna hit?

    A: Wait and see.

    Q: Oh no! That’s all I’ve got to say.

    A: Those that have a certain genetic profile may suffer very little.

    Q: Is that any of us? That doesn’t sound like anybody is immune… like, "They’ll suffer very little before they die!"

    A: Smoking tobacco is a clue and an aid.

    Q: A clue to the genetic profile?

    A: Yes.

    Q: Oh, interesting. [everyone lights a cigarette and starts laughing] Everybody lights up! I feel like smoking! (laughter)

    A: It is not just aliens that don’t like to eat people that smoke! But from a certain perspective the viruses that cause such illnesses as the Black Death are "alien".

    Q: (Belibaste) So it means that aliens like the Black Death virus because they don’t like people that smoke? (L) If you look at it from a 4th density perspective, when something like the Black Death comes and there is global suffering – and when you read about it, the Black Death is just horrible – but if there was such suffering on our planet from something like that, 4D STS would be getting a rich feast of suffering which is what they feed on. So, an alien virus would be interactive with 4D reality by providing its food.

    A: Close enough!

    Q: (Andromeda) When will this start? (Atriedes) That’s kind of a prediction… (laughter) (Galaxia) Soon, or long term?

    A: 18 months to 2 years.

  6. Piotr

    Kevin [Heider]: Neither I, nor Mrs Jadczyk said that comet Elenin was/is a brown dwarf or planet Nibiru/Tyche/whatever. It is a comet. Similarly, neither I, nor Mrs Jadczyk stated that the comet will crash into Earth — in fact Mrs Jadczyk stated quite the opposite here:
    As to earthquakes and CMEs, as I’ve stated in my original comment, the data speaks for itself (is NASA still trying to figure out what causes the ‘sunward spikes’ on a comet?).
    Cry-wolf: The problem is "blind faith." I can’t speak for the authors of the two pages you suggested, but from quickly reading through, it appears they both simply state their opinions. What makes one a "scientist"? A Ph.D. from a "renowned" school, the acceptance of the "scientific community", or the hunger for the Truth? In my opinion, it is the latter — the former two simply make you a very well-trained and accepted monkey (not calling anyone names, I’ve met quite a few brilliant Ph.D.’s who simply didn’t have the energy to ‘fight the system’).
    As to the quote from the Cs: I encourage you to investigate further how information retrieved via the ouija board is handled by Mrs Jadczyk.

  7. Arkadiusz Jadczyk

    Bob Rieger wrote:

    "her husband "Ark" stay up late at night laughing …"

    That’s me. If you really want to know what I am doing late at night, you can simply ask or check. It is usually better than just guessing, and in this case you did not do your homework.

    If you really want to know what I am doing late at night, I can tell you: I am proving mathematical theorems and sometimes I apply them to physics. Right now I am working on two new papers dealing with spacetime, quantum theory and gravitation, to be presented at a conference in July (talks accepted). For details check

    I also run a Polish blog

    where I posted some early info about the comet Elenin, and I am regularly posting updates, mainly from JPL site. If you have any scientific problems and questions about what I ever wrote, I suggest you ask me first, and I will try to reply, as I am always trying to do when it concerns science. When it concerns dirty gossip – I will not waste my time.

  8. Arkadiusz Jadczyk


    From the article:

    "All this nonsense seems to have started back in January, when edge-of-reality blogger Laura Knight Jadczyk made provocative warnings — all based on information from a member of her research team who’s "an astronomer at a large observatory". (Yea, right.) "

    In fact you are wrong. It all started with by blog entry on January 9:

    Nadlatuje kometa Elenin,nadlatuje-kometa-elenin

    If you have any questions concerning my blog entry, if you want to discuss (seriously) any of its content (I know, it is in Polish, but there are online translators, and the entry is short) – we can discuss this issue on a scientific basis. And "Yea, right", my blog entry was partly based on information from a friend-astronomer in a major astronomic observatory, alas, not from NASA.

    I think that is what blogs are for. But popular science journal should have a somewhat different formula, otherwise they may lose serious readers.

  9. Scott

    First of all, this is a scientific magazine, not a scientific journal. There is a huge difference between the two. Frankly I do not think Sky & Telescope would care about losing whatever small fraction of readers who subscribe to Jadczyk’s nutty views. Serious amateur astronomers know that Elenin is just a normal comet and is not dangerous to earth in any way. If you were subscribing just to get the monthly sky chart then imho you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on the value of the magazine. For the serious amateur, the sky chart is about the least valuable part of each issue as we generate our own charts based on our observing needs.

    As for your posting Jadczyk, the orbital parameters are certain enough to firmly establish the path the comet will follow during this apparition (despite the "uncertainty" expressed by the unnamed astronomer you claimed to cite on your posting). In fact, when I observed it the night before last it was exactly where the orbit predicted it should be, to within 2.2 arcseconds (the resolution of my image).

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