Comets Elenin & Garradd

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The first comet visitor in the sky we'll review is comet Elenin (C2010 X1). You may have heard about, because it’s become a popular item for the gloom and doom crowd, who see portents of disaster in ordinary astronomical objects.

The truth about Comet Elenin is that it is a quite ordinary, fairly small comet discovered on Dec. 10, 2010 by Russian amateur astronomer Leonid Elenin using a remote controlled telescope in Arizona.

This comet will pass closest to the sun on Sept. 10 (45 million miles or 72 million kilometers) and closest to Earth on Oct. 16 at a distance of 22 million miles (35 million km.)

Despite the fact that this is a really tiny body, 3 or 4 km. in diameter which will miss the Earth by 22 million miles, the purveyors of gloom and doom have seized upon it as bringing disaster upon the Earth. Please don’t take them seriously, instead try to spot this interesting little object.

At present, comet Elenin is too close to the sun to be viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, though observers south of the equator may catch it low in the western sky after sunset. Northern observers' turn will come after the comet passes the sun and starts back out towards the Oort Cloud.

In the last few days of September, Elenin will separate from the sun in our morning sky. It will be visible in binoculars in the morning sky for all of October, and we will publish finder maps then.

There is an unusual opportunity to “observe” this comet when it is very close to the sun during the last week of September. To do this, you won’t be able to use your eyes or any optical aid; instead you will use your computer.

Several times every day, the SOHO satellite returns images of the sun, including ones from the observatory's LASCO C3 camera which has a field of view of about 15 degrees. This has an occulting disk which blocks the Sun itself but lets the background stars appear.

If you take a look at it right now, you'll see Venus off to the left of the sun and the star Regulus to the right. During the last week of September, you will be able to see Comet Elenin pass through the field of view.
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