May 29, 2017

On the Hunt for Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon.

Comet Lemmon (arrowed) passes through

the Southern Cross on January 20th.

Photo by Luis Argerich. Used with permission.

Astronomy in 2013 already has one great thing going for it; the potential for several bright comets. While the astro-pundits debate the potential for comets C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS later this Spring and C/2012 S1 ISON later this year, we’d like to turn your attention southward to what could become the first naked eye comet of 2013. [Read more...]

24.03.11: Comet Elenin: A Great Show, But No Need for Bruce Willis.

The path of Comet Elenin through the inner solar system. (Created using the NASA/JPL Ephemeris Generator).

There’s a scene in the otherwise fairly decent 1990’s disaster flick Deep Impact where the President played by Morgan Freeman reveals that a cover-up has been ongoing for about a year to keep an impending inbound doomsday comet a secret. Such drama makes most backyard observers chuckle inside; we know that on any given night, legions of observers are looking skyward, hoping to find a body that could immortalize our efforts. By day and on cloudy evenings, we’re at our keyboards, sharing data and computing orbits. Our tools are homemade observatories, sometimes housing instruments that would make some universities blush. It’s extremely unlikely that the “Big One” would slip by the worldwide astronomical community. That’s why I got a brief chortle this morning out of a message board post suggesting that one only need conduct a brief (insert favorite search engine here) scouting of the ‘Net for C/2010 X1 Elenin. The name was familiar to me and observers everywhere; This comet may put on the summer’s best show of the year as it passes perihelion on September 10th at 0.45 A.U. from the Sun and moves into the predawn sky, well positioned for northern hemisphere viewers. Then, in October, Elenin will pass within 0.3 A.U. (about 28 million miles, or 112 lunar distances) from the Earth… Yes, Elenin will probably put on a fairly decent show. One key indicator for this is that it was first spied about 4 A.U. from the Sun; this means that it’s fairly large and intrinsically bright, much like Hale-Bopp. The geometry of the pass is also very similar to the passage of comet McNaught in 2007, which means we may be in for a decent show as Elenin unfurls its dust tail on its way out of the inner solar system. But let’s just dispel some of the gathering Woo out there and state that there is ZERO chance that Elenin will impact the Earth. This is just one cosmic cat that even the likes of Morgan Freeman couldn’t keep in the bag. And no, myself and the legions of astronomers behind me are NOT in cahoots with Big Brother in hushing things up, as we have yet to receive one single pay off, and do our debunking on a pro bono basis.  And, much like comet Halley in 1910, Elenin will unfurl its tail in our direction, but remember, a cometary tail is mostly composed of… nothing! We’re talking a vacuum many orders of magnitude better than what can be done in a laboratory. Yes, nasties such as cyanide have been detected in the spectra of comets, but we aren’t due for a cyanogen bath this summer. Will Elenin sprout the hysteria seen in 1910? You’d think we’d have learned in a centuries time… but as Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel ‘round the world while the truth is just puttin’ on its shoes…” and that paradigm is never more true than in today’s wired-in world. At very least, “Comet Pills” may be only an E-bay order away this time…