It’s hard to miss the debate over comet Elenin that has been raging over the past few months, but as the object quickly approaches Earth, it may be worth providing a summary of what we do and perhaps more importantly what we don’t know about the object. As we look forward toward the next few months, it’s apparent we will be witnessing something spectacular – and soon. Of course before then, there is a growing population of people who are suggesting Elenin may not just fly past Earth but actually cause massive trouble on its surface.
To look at Elenin as a far off blip in a telescope, astronomers would call it a “wimpy” comet as far as comets go. But even this relatively small object, if it were to impact Earth, would cause major disruptions to our planet’s surface and even possibly be the catastrophe we’ve all been hearing about with fear about 2012. The asteroid is by no means a goliath among other comets, but it does have a few features that make it particularly interesting to astronomers – and even more interesting to those suggesting we may be living in our final days.
Is there a threat from Elenin? Consider the following. On March 11th, ten days after David Morrison -an Astrobiology Senior Scientist at NASA- said there would be no effect on Earth from the distant body it aligned with Earth and the Sun. If the date March 11 sticks out in your mind, there’s good reason. That’s the same date as the massive Earthquake that struck Japan and ultimately caused the Fukushima disaster. It was to a still shocked world that Morrison announced Elenin will be reaching its closest point to Earth on October 16th after turning back away from the sun in early September. At its closest point Elenin is, according to official estimates, going to be approximately 21 million miles from Earth. While this seems like a great distance, in astronomical terms it will be missing us by only a few degrees.
And there has been a massive outcry from believers who suggest Elenin will be coming far closer to Earth and having even more profound effects on our planet’s surface and what’s beneath. They’re suggesting massive Earthquakes, Tsunamis, winds of incredible magnitude, and possibly even a collision with debris cast off from the comet or even a larger portion of the comet itself.
Despite some claims, the actual flyby of Elenin will not be taking place in 2012. It will in fact have come and gone long before that time and be back off on its way deeper into space. But as we continue to watch the skies, it’s apparent that this object is having some effect on our planet. Just how far that goes is still unknown. We will have to wait and watch.