It is called Comet Elenin.

Latest indications are this relatively small comet has broken into even smaller, even less significant, chunks of dust and ice. This trail of piffling particles will remain on the same path as the original comet, completing its unexceptional swing through the inner solar system this fall.

“Elenin did as new comets passing close by the sun do about two percent of the time: It broke apart,” said Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office in Pasadena, Calif. “Elenin’s remnants will also act as other broken-up comets act. They will trail along in a debris cloud that will follow a well-understood path out of the inner solar system. After that, we won’t see the scraps of comet Elenin around these parts for almost 12 millennia.”

Twelve millennia may be a long time to Earthlings, but for those frozen inhabitants of the outer solar system who make this commute, a dozen millennia give or take is a walk in the celestial park. Comet Elenin came as close as 45 million miles (72 million kilometers) to the sun, but it arrived from the outer solar system’s Oort Cloud, which is so far away its outer edge is about a third of the way to the nearest star other than our sun.
For those broken up over the breakup of what was formerly about 1.2 miles (two kilometers) of uninspiring dust and ice, remember what Yeomans said about comets coming close to the sun – they fall apart about two percent of the time.

“Comets are made up of ice, rock, dust and organic compounds and can be several miles in diameter, but they are fragile and loosely held together like dust balls,” said Yeomans. “So it doesn’t take much to get a comet to disintegrate, and with comets, once they break up, there is no hope of reconciliation.”

More details, and pictures of the orbital geometry of the slush, here.

Comments

  1. #1 StevoR
    October 26, 2011

    Hey! I find this interesting! ;-)

    Vale comet Elenin.

  2. #2 Drivebyposter
    October 26, 2011

    But I thought it was made of cyanide and was going to impact the Earth and exterminate the human race….

    Are you telling me that we are going to live now?

  3. #3 Mu
    October 26, 2011

    If it impacts the earth it could be made from Vitamin C and exterminate all life. The little blobs we saw in Jupiter’s atmosphere after SL9 were about earth size.

  4. #4 Drivebyposter
    October 26, 2011

    I was kidding. I was making fun of some conspiracy theory that Elenin was made of cyanide and was going to impact the Earth and NASA was covering it up…because…BECAUSE! DOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!1

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    October 26, 2011

    The internet does not have a a sense of humor.

  6. #6 Mu
    October 26, 2011

    I would find being wiped out by a Vitamin C comet the ultimate irony. What means is probably mentioned in some Terry Pratchett novel already.

  7. #7 Calli Arcale
    October 27, 2011

    There was a picture of Comet Elenin on the web recently; can’t remember where I saw it. Possibly Bad Astronomy. It was pretty cool — astronomers tried to spot the remaining rubble field in Comet Elenin’s predicted location. They were able to image a blur, and over several days observed that the blur’s apparent position changed just as would be predicted for Comet Elenin. Maybe it can’t destroy the world and prevent us having to pay all of our mortgages, but it’s still pretty awesome to see science in action. Celestial mechanics — it works!

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    October 27, 2011

    OK, so now this thread is near the top of Google Hits for “vitamin C comet”

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