A misreported April Fool’s joke sparked panic on the internet over a comet discovered by a Russian astronomer. Conspiracy theorists believe that the Elenin comet is an alien spaceship and demand that the scientist discloses data hushed up by NASA.
The web uproar focuses on the comet C/2010 X1, which was first discovered on December 10, 2010. Alien enthusiasts believe that it has a cluster of alien-made objects, most likely spacecraft, hiding in its tail. They fear that when the comet gets closer to Earth, the aliens will show themselves, and the first contact is likely to be a disaster. They expect doomsday on September 10.
The panic-sparking claims originate from Argentinean astronomer Sergio Toscano, whose report on the alien theory was cited by a number of Latin American media outlets. The scientist said the data came from the Chinese national space agency.
But the true origin of the story comes from a British newspaper, which published it as an April Fool’s joke. The astronomer may have been misguided by the fact that the Latin American counterpart for April Fool’s Day, Feast of the Holy Innocents, is celebrated on December 28.
Nevertheless, the internet rumor mill was quick to spread the story, which mutated into an alien invasion scare. Some even matched the comet with the infamous Nibiru planet.
“Non-existent” scientist’s misadventure
And the person arguably affected most by the scare is the Russian scientist who discovered the comet in the first place. Leonid Elenin from the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics in Moscow became the first target for the enquiries, demands and threats of all the worried souls.
“It was somewhat funny at first, and I even surfed the internet to see what they say, but now I’m scared to do it. I’m really irritated. I’m really disappointed that this nonsense appeared in the Russian segment of the web,” the astronomer told RIA Novosti news agency.
According to Elenin, conspiracy theorists go as far as claiming that he is a front firm for NASA or other government agencies, who try to put a lid on the information about the alleged upcoming disaster.
The astronomer did his best to explain that there is nothing special about the comet he detected, apart from the fact that it was the first comet discovered by a Russian astronomer in two decades.
He believes the hysteria has been fueled by the photo of the comet made by a tracking camera, which resulted in two nearby stars leaving stretched markings.
“There’s the comet flying and there are tracks from the two stars. I read an article claiming those two ‘cylinders’ are the spacecraft,” Elenin explained.
The Elenin comet is to flyby Earth at an estimated distance of 35,000,000 kilometers in mid-October. You would need good binoculars or a telescope to see it harmlessly pass and go away.
Comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin) is becoming one of the most observed long-period comets. At the moment, the overall number of CCD camera observations is approaching 1300, while the number of CCD observations of comet C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) never exceeded 1000. Of course, for the most part that reflects the growth and accessibility of modern CCD cameras. I have underscored this fact for the conspiracy theorists who are saying that Comet Elenin is impossible to see in the sky and all its observations are being kept secret. Of course that is not the case, but let’s return to news about the comet.
On the basis of quality estimates of the comet’s brightness, the photometric model of comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin) has been revised by Artem Novichonok. According to the new prediction, the comet may reach a brightness of mag. 4 near perihelion, and that is without accounting for the effect of forward scattering, when the comet is directly between the Earth and the Sun. Tiny icy dust particles will scatter light passing through them, and the comet’s brightness, which we can observe on images taken by SOHO’s space coronagraph, will increase. The comet could reach mag. 0 or even brighter! True, such a sharp increase in brightness will be very brief, and when the comet comes out of conjunction with the Sun and we can see it in the morning sky, its brightness will have already returned to mag. 4-4.5. The comet will remain visible to the unaided eye until the beginning of November.
A challenge from ParaNikki comes from paranormalutopia.com
Every now and again I am a little embarrassed to be part of the ufology and ancient astronaut theory crowd. Honestly, there are some real kooks out there that will come up with the wildest stories and lately, one of them, is that Comet Elenin (a.k.a. C2010 X1), a comet set to pass Earth in October, is somehow going to bring about earthquakes, tidal shifts, maybe even the end of the world depending on which wacko you believe.Whenever I read these things, I always wonder for just a moment but then I immediately find myself trying to get to the source of it all. Frankly, in spite of all the conspiracy theories I believe in, I think the scientists involved in the field would have their reasons for not telling us, i.e. they don’t want to cause a panic with something that can be and probably will be diverted, or there really is no cause for alarm which is the case WAY more often than not.
Yes, big things have come barreling through our atmosphere before and you never know when a meteor is going to come falling out of the sky but facts are facts and there are a number of experts trying to put these rumors to bed. For instance, Discovery Science says that trajectory places it at about 21 million miles from Earth (more than 80 times farther away than the moon) at it’s closest pass and considering the minuscule size of the object it will have the equivalent effect on earth as a mosquito would if it hit head on with a ocean cruiser. In case you didn’t catch that, it won’t have ANY effect on Earth. It’s not going to slam into us, it’s not Nibiru, it’s not inhabited, it’s not the fulfillment of a Mayan prophecy, none of that. Even the closest fly-by’s of other comets haven’t created natural disasters historically and this one will be much farther away than many have been.
If you seem to think otherwise, I’d be glad to hear why, but I can’t promise I’ll take you seriously.
Now earlier in March, Ask An Astrobiologist says this
So what the deal with comet elenin, there does not seem to be too much credible information. Everyone seems to be freaking out about it, but no one even knows how big it is. Does this comet pose a threat and what is its size and nature? AND I have read about comet Elenin and how some nasa people want to keep it a secret. what are the chances of it coming to earth and what threat does it bring with it, and has this comet got anything to do with 2012 hoax? AND Elinin is only .117 au from earth on mar 11,2011. From march 8 to mar 15, 2011, what are the chances that Elinin either impacts us, or gets close enough to cause a major catastrophy. Please be honest.
I have been receiving many questions about Comet Elenin. Many of them refer to the outrageous lies on some conspiracy theory websites, which are amplified by people who seem to think this comet is highly unusual. It is not unusual, and it is not a threat to Earth. See the Wikipedia article on this comet [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C/2010_X1] for more information. C2010 X1 Elenin (to give its full name) is a long-period comet, which takes about 10,000 years to complete one orbit around the Sun. It was discovered with a robotic telescope in New Mexico on 10 December 2010 by Russian amateur astronomer Leonid Elenin. When comets or asteroids are first discovered, their orbits are quite uncertain; usually it takes several months of observations to firmly establish the orbit. Elenin’s perihelion (closest to the Sun) is in early September 2011 at a distance from the Sun of 40-45 million miles. It will be closest to Earth on about 16 October, at a distance of about 21 million miles, which is nearly a hundred times farther than the Moon. The comet never comes close to the Earth, but it is expected to be visible in binoculars during August and October. Part of the Internet chatter concerns its size. Comets are exceedingly small and enveloped in a tenuous cloud of gas and dust, so the only way to be sure of their actual dimensions is to visit with a spacecraft. Half a dozen comets have been the target of spacecraft missions, and all of them (even Comet Halley) are less than 10 km in diameter. There is no reason to think Elenin is any different. This means its mass is less than one billionth the mass of the Earth. Needless to say, we will not be aware of the tiny gravitational pull from Elenin. In spite of these simple facts, some websites (such as godlikeproductions) are making wild claims that Elenin will hit the Earth, or disturb our orbit, or cause tides, or interact with our magnetic field. Such claims are pure fiction. One of the worst examples is a video that someone posted on the NASAbuzzroom website that claims that the magnetic field of the comet will cause a large shift in the rotation axis of the Earth and produce mega-earthquakes on March 15, 2011. It is hard to imagine anyone would take this seriously. Comets don’t have magnetic fields, and magnetic fields can’t change the rotation axis or cause earthquakes no matter how large they are. Adding to the craziness is a claim that this same comet caused the Earth’s axis to shift by 3 degrees in February 2010 and caused the Chile Earthquake. These are simply lies; the comet was far away a year ago, and there was no change whatever in Earth’s rotation axis. The Chile earthquake was a normal slippage in an active fault that has produced many previous earthquakes, including the one witnessed by Charles Darwin in 1835. Please remember that just because someone says he or she is from NASA doesn’t make it true. Many people who post YouTube videos lie about their affiliation. Incidentally, only NASA is allowed to use the NASA logo, the blue circle with the word NASA and a satellite orbiting around it.
Astrobiology Senior Scientist
March 1, 2011
DRUM ROLL PLEASE