Anticipated by doomsayers as a potentially catastrophic event, Comet Elenin traversed the closest point in its trajectory around Earth (35,000km) early Sunday morning just before sunrise. But save for a few keen observers and astronomers, this went largely unnoticed.
When discovered by astronomer Leonid Elenin in December 2010, the passing of the 3-5 km wide chunk of space ice was predicted to be the astronomical event of the year, which in turn inspired an overkill of apocalyptic theories.
Amateur astronomers and conspiracy theorists put forth the idea that Comet Elenin was responsible for a variety of anomalous events seen throughout 2011; from the scattered outbursts of political uprisings to the earthquake in Japan.
Others extrapolated these prophecies to Comet Elenin representing the end of the world.
However, sometime during the middle of August, Comet Elenin began disintegrating as it crossed the solar system and traveled through the sun’s solar flares. And so at around 4 am Sunday morning, the comet passed within view of ground telescopes in an event that astronomers described as "largely uneventful."
“I could see a hazy group of dim chunks of rock sitting in the sky, moving very slowly,” said Samir Nawar, a professor at the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG) in Helwan.
“But it was far less interesting than looking at the sun or the moon on any other day of the year, and a lot less noticeable,” he joked, referring to the Earth’s temperate climate and tides.
On the issue of conspiracy theories, Nawar went on to say that there is an obsession with space phenomena, which are far away and little understood; and that even if Comet Elenin had not disintegrated, the event would have still passed largely unnoticed.
“People like to play on the fact that there are a lot of ‘maybes’ with these ‘unknown’ phenomena,” he continued. “But the truth is there are few maybes; there is a lot of accuracy with understanding space science, more than there is an understanding of what’s at the bottom of the oceans. If there was any issue of concern, NASA or any professional astronomer would be the first to raise the issue.”
Despite being purported to potentially affect Earth phenomena, natural disasters or tides, Comet Elenin passed by at about 90 times the distance of the moon. Elenin is about one-hundredth the size of the moon.
Comet Elenin will now continue outward, back into space where it came from, with no further events predicted in the foreseeable future.
As Nawar put it, “People should move on to their next doomsday theory, this one’s over."