For the past two weeks the official Facebook group of the Astronomical Society of Mahmoud Mosque (ASMM) has been bombarded with questions about comet Elenin.
“Please, tell me what will happen to the World on Sept. 26,” asked one frightened subscriber.
“I don't know what to believe. NASA knows a lot of truth out there in the sky and they hide it from us. Be safe and go away from high buildings and beaches,” commented another, ascribing to the conspiracy theory and hoax being propagated on the internet.
The rumors spreading across the internet claiming a major natural catastrophe happening on September 26, 2011, has left many people disconcerted. Many of the sources point to the idea that there is a relationship between planetary alignments, comet C/2010 X1 (popularly known as Elenin) and seismic activity and earthquakes on Earth. They claim that such celestial alignments could be the real reason behind earthquakes and natural disasters, rather than tectonic plate movements as mainstream scientists believe.
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Different arguments have also emerged to explain why that would be possible. For example, one talks about the plasma and electric cosmology model to try and explain the impact of electric interactions between electrically charged celestial bodies. Positive and negatively charged celestial objects interact through plasma thanks to plasma’s superconductive nature, they reason, leading to discharging of Earth by Elenin.
The Space-Time model of layered universe could also be pointed out which considers space not an empty vacuum but a fabric made of 4-dimentional sub-atomic particles filling every single point in the universe around our bodies and around celestial objects, which might hypothesize a shockwave resulting from Elenin’s orbit. Other ideas rationalizing imminent disaster relate to the interaction between the currently active solar winds and the comet.
Yet, all these models can’t be feasible with Elenin, a small 3 to 5 km wide space debris made of ice, which is just like billions of its kind. Its distant orbit, which will take it only as close as 35 million km (21 million miles) from Earth (90 times the distance between Earth and the Moon) also makes it too far away to exert an impact. In fact, even the magnetic field of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, can only affect particles 7 million km away from it.
Not Even a Brown Dwarf
Other extreme claims about the nature of Elinin say that it is really a Brown Dwarf. But a Brown Dwarf would take far longer than what Elenin needs to change its direction by 90 degrees while passing by our Sun, which is two months and a few days. Just like a bicycle can take a narrower U-turn than a train because of its smaller size and slower speed.
A Brown Dwarf is a failed star who’s mass falls between the largest gaseous giant planets and the smallest stars. Despite the fact that they don’t illuminate themselves like stars or share other characteristics with active stars, they could have companions in binary systems, poly-systems or even satellite planets just like normal stars.
So how could a celestial body of such a size, mass and light reflection properties be at that relatively close distance from us while we can barely detect it except so faintly? If Elenin was indeed a Brown Dwarf, it would have been easily detected by even Infra-red telescopes while it was still as far as away as Neptune, the outermost planet in our solar system.
This not to mention that a Brown Dwarf would have affected the orbit of the outer planets of the solar system such as Saturn before reaching the inner regions of the four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth & Mars,) something that didn’t occur.
|A Brown Dwarf is a failed star who’s mass falls between the largest gaseous giant planets and the smallest stars. Comet Elenin, on the other hand, is small and quickly disintegrating as it passed close to the Sun on Sept. 10, 2011.|
One thing that might be misleading people when hearing about Elenin is the use of astronomical units to explain its distance as it approaches Earth. Some of the warning messages say, “The comet is passing VERY close to Earth at a distance of 0.23 AU.” Lay readers who are not familiar with astronomy might feel that the fraction indicates a small distance, while 0.23 AU really translates to 35 million km.
Another misguiding claim says that Elenin will occult the Sun leaving our Earth in full darkness for three days. For the comet to occult the Sun, it has to move in as close to the Earth as 400 km (about the same distance the International Space Station orbits our planet), which is a far cry from 35 million km.
“As far as Comet Elenin goes, the only chance of impending doom is for the comet itself: it is disintegrating and quickly fading away,” said Nancy Atkinson of UniverseToday.com. “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 September 10, 2011, and he says Comet Elenin has likely has not survived.” Mattiazzo has observed that the comet is already facing solar flares and is melting and fading away.
It is worth mentioning that our Sun, like any other star, has a periodic cycle called “Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle” which is repeated every 11 years, whereby higher rates of solar radiations occur. Solar phenomena such as Solar Flares, Solar Winds, Coronal Holes, Coronal Loops, Coronal Mass Ejection, Prominences, Helmet Streamer, Sunspots, Supergranulation, Granule, Faculae, Plage, Spicules and Moreton Waves are also seen during that period. The year 2011 marks the 3rd most active year in the ongoing Solar Cycle, with the cycle peaking in 2013.
It seems that the only important thing we could benefit from Comet C/2010 X1 is trying to know more about the Oort Cloud, the outermost border of our solar system and the source of long-period comets. Understanding the Oort Cloud is a major goal for astronomers because it is the least known region of our solar system.
Earth is a sizable planet orbited by thousands of NEOs (Near-Earth Objects), some of which are classified as PHOs (Potentially Hazardous Objects) which lie just about 0.05 AU (7 million km) from Earth. So if rumor followers want to find something to be concerned about they can give more attention to those PHOs rather than Comet Elenin.
Atkinson, Nancy (1). Comet Elenin is Now Fading Away. September 14, 2011. Last accessed September 25, 2011.
Atkinson, Nancy (2). Worried About Comet Elenin? FAQs from Ian Musgrave. July 20, 2011. Last accessed September 25, 2011.
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