New Comet Found; May Be Visible From Earth in 2013

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PostThu Aug 18, 2011 1:31 am » by New2011

Andrew Fazekas

for National Geographic News

Published June 22, 2011

There's a newfound comet closing in on the sun, and when it gets here in 2013, you may be able to see it with your naked eye.

Astronomers stumbled upon the icy interloper on June 5 while searching for potentially hazardous asteroids.

Equipped with the world's largest digital camera—1,400 megapixels—the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS team snagged a faint image of the odd object while it was more than 700 million miles (1.1 billion kilometers) away, between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. (Explore an interactive solar system.)

"Almost everything we find is an asteroid, but this object was suspicious," said Richard Wainscoat, co-discoverer of the comet and an astronomer at the University of Hawaii.

"Unlike asteroids, which appear point-like in images, the telltale sign that gave it away was its fuzzy appearance."

(Related: "Weird Asteroid Really a Crusty Old Comet?")

By March 2013 the comet, named C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), is expected to come within 30 million miles (48 million kilometers) of the sun—closer even than the innermost planet, Mercury.

When the comet makes its closest approach to the sun, more of its ices will vaporize, adding to its hazy envelope of gas and dust and producing the familiar tail.

This denser envelope, or coma, should boost the comet to peak brightness, making it potentially visible to the naked eye low in the western horizon just after sunset.

Comet a Runaway From the South

While there is no danger of collision with Earth, preliminary calculations of the comet's orbit show that this may be its first and final trip through the solar system.

"It may be coming around the sun for the first and only time, only to be ejected from the solar system, never to return," Wainscoat said.

"Since we don't have a lot of data on it, we really don't know the orbit well enough right now, and it will take up to two months of observations to find out."

Astronomers believe C/2011 L4 may be a runaway from the Oort cloud, a reservoir of billions of hibernating comets that orbits about 100,000 times farther than the distance between Earth and the sun.

"The current path of the comet is typical of those thought to be originating from the Oort cloud, showing it coming up from the south—underneath the Earth—going up the back side of the sun and into the north sky, very nearly perpendicular to the plane of the solar system," Wainscoat said.

The fact that it's going around the back of the sun from our point of view may ultimately affect the comet's visibility, but a lot will depend on how close the body actually gets to the sun.

Also, whether the comet is north or south of the sun when it reaches peak brightness will determine which hemisphere on Earth gets the better view.

(Related: "Comet Is Cosmic Snow Globe, NASA Flyby Shows.")

For now, "we think it will be an easy binocular target, but it may very well make it to naked-eye level, and there is even a potential that it may be visible during the day," Wainscoat said. ... e-science/

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PostSun Aug 28, 2011 1:29 am » by Slith

But will we be around to see it? :nails: hehe

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PostSun Aug 28, 2011 1:43 am » by Slamgunshark



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PostSun Aug 28, 2011 3:04 am » by Rmcampwest

When I get done beating my Mayen servants on December 22 2012, I will have them prepare the most lavish meals for the entire 2013 year everyday so that we may purge the evil fear mongering dumbasses from the face of our planet!!

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PostSun Aug 28, 2011 3:30 am » by Nihilgeist

In before people claim it's a fake story/fake comet to cover the Comet Elenin. :shock:

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PostSun Aug 28, 2011 4:08 am » by Istvan12

All this hype about a comet more then 700 million miles away and they even have a picture of it using the worlds largest digital camera .. but they don't talk about Elenin and they can't even get a picture of it.

To me that is pathetic, and yet at same time fishy.

and no I am not claiming fake or cover up on Elenin .. just like I stated pathetic cause Elenin is so close and happening now.

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PostSun Aug 28, 2011 5:47 am » by Nihilgeist

istvan12 wrote:All this hype about a comet more then 700 million miles away and they even have a picture of it using the worlds largest digital camera .. but they don't talk about Elenin and they can't even get a picture of it.

To me that is pathetic, and yet at same time fishy.

and no I am not claiming fake or cover up on Elenin .. just like I stated pathetic cause Elenin is so close and happening now.

:rtft: I knew it!

Well because Elenin is NOT important, just like the myriad of other comets discovered around the time of Elenin. Have you been hearing about them? Nope. The only people that are making elenin newsworthy are the ones that want to make it newsworthy when it's not.

From Slamgunshark here:

slamgunshark wrote:hey dude not really.

Will Comet Elenin Hit Earth?: No, its closest approach is 0.23 AU on Oct 16, 2011, where 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun. To put this in perspective, this is only a little closer than the closest approach of Venus to Earth, and roughly 100 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. This distance is from the latest MPEC ephemeris which is based on over 100 observations from multiple observatories that have been continuously tracking the comet, so it won’t change appreciably.

Surely if Elenin Was Going to Hit the Earth NASA/the Government Would Hush it Up? Which government? The Australian Government, the UK Government? The Italian Government? The South African Government? Amateur astronomers world wide are following this comet and continually talking to each other. The have the programs to work out where the comet is going. If the comet was coming anywhere near us, the amateur community would be first to know, and there is no keeping them quite. Consider how wide spread the information is about Apophis, which is a real, if extremely marginal, hazard.

Will it Cause Earthquakes, Abnormally High Tides or Other Disasters: No, Elenin is a mere 3-5 kilometres across and has less than a billionth of the tidal force of the Moon at closest approach (as well as a negligible magnetic field). If the Moon can’t cause the poles to tip, cause massive tidal floods or earthquakes, Comet 2010 X1 Elenin won’t. We’ve been closer to other comets before with no ill effect.

But What About Mensur Omerbashich’s Paper that Says Elenin is Causing Earthquakes? It shows nothing of the sort, earthquakes are no more common during comet alignments than at any other time.

But it’s bigger than Jupiter! No, that’s the coma , the thin haze of gas and dust that surrounds the comet nucleus. The nucleus of C/2010 X1 Elenin is roughly 3-4 Km in diameter and Elenin has a coma around 50,000 km wide at the time of writing (which is a third of the diameter of Jupiter). The average density of the coma is about the same as the density of the atmosphere on the Moon. A coma is a feature of all comets that approach the Sun closely, for example comet 81P Wild (nucleus 4 Km diameter) had a coma of 50,000 Km and 103P Hartley had a coma of 150,000 Km. The Great Comet of 1811 had a nucleus of around 30km in diameter and had a coma nearly as big as the Sun. Comet Halley is 6×15 km and had a coma 100,000 km wide when it last approached Earth. We survived them all (and 103P Hartley came nearly twice as close as Elenin will), and we will survive Elenin without incident.

But I Can See a Picture of it in WikiSky, it’s HUGE! That is the carbon star CW Leonis.

Is Elenin a Moon of a Brown Dwarf Star? No.

But Brown Dwarf Stars are so Cold, you Can’t See Them. No, coldest detected so far is ~370K (about the temperature of a hot cup of tea), the the warmest are around 2200 K, and most range between 500-1000 K. They may not produce much visible light, but they reflect light. Jupiter has a composition similar to those of Drown Dwarf stars. Jupiter’s cloud tops are a chilly 128 K and it reflects light just fine. Any Brown Dwarf in the inner solar system would be painfully obvious.

Will Going Through the Comets Tail Affect Us? No, should the rather small tail of Elenin actually pass over us, it’s doing a pretty good imitation of a vacuum (about 100 atoms per cm3). We have been through bigger and denser comet tails before with no effect whatsoever (especially the Great Comet of 1861).

Why isn’t Comet Elenin in the News? For the same reason that the other 16 comets discovered in 2010 didn’t get in the news, or the 5 comets discovered in 2011. They are all dim. The News is only interested in comets that are spectacular, readily visible to the unaided eye or are being visited by spacecraft. Comet 2009 P1 will be as bright, if not brighter than C/2010 X1 Elenin, but that’s not in the news either. Amateur and professional astronomers are watching comet Elenin and others avidly, but the news channels don’t care about our obsessions with faint fuzzies.

Why Can’t I Find Information of Elenin at the NASA Website? Because NASA is not the arbiter of all things astronomical. You won’t find information on C/2009 P1, C/2011 C1 or any of the faint comets discovered during 2010 and 2011. NASA does have information of comets that its spacecraft have visited, or are interesting in some other way, but it’s not an exhaustive comet site like Cometography or Aerith.

(editor’s note, NASA and JPL’s Near Earth Object Office did publish an article about Comet Elenin in May, 2011, which can be found at this link, confirming it will safely fly past Earth.)

I Saw Comet Elenin Near the Sun in August 2010/Now: In August 2010 only really powerful telescopes could see Elenin. You saw Venus. If you are seeing something bright near the Sun in the morning sky now, it’s Venus.

How Can I Tell What IS in the Sky and Avoid The Venus Confusion? For freeware standalone programs there is Cartes du Ciel and Stellarium (my favourite). For Web based solutions Skyview Cafe, Sky-Map and GoogleEarth (KMZ file here) all work.

Where Can I Find Orbital Elements for Celestia or Stellarium? Here.

Where Can I Find Images of Elenin? Here, and here and a nice image of C/2010 X1 near to NGC 3376 is here.

I have Photographed/ Seen a Photograph of a Double Sun, is this Elenin? It’s lens flare.
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