2012 is coming and, with it, kooky end-of-the-world fables. If the Asgardian calendar and its earthquakes doesn't get us, maybe the Mayans will. Some people even like to combine Doomsday prophecies - the LHC might bring the end of the world by opening a black hole and out pop Mayans armed with strangelet-powered weapons.
In reality, the LHC couldn't hurt a fly with its energy (though I wouldn't stick my hand in it while it's LHC-ing, that could go to a weird place physically) and the Mayans had five calendars and they all restarted, as calendars do, so the end of this calendar to them could be basically our Saturday. The Asgardians were a little more forgiving in their astronomy, so the Apocalypse could be tomorrow or any time over the next 150 years.
What apparently will not happen is that Comet Elenin will have anything to do with it. Once rumored to be ending the world starting October 16th, 2011, its apocalyptic possibilities collapsed faster than the earthquake doomsday predictions of Harold Camping ( okay, that reference is pretty obscure, since his 15 minutes of fame were up May 21st, see So The Rapture Is Saturday - Luckily The Grey's Anatomy Season Finale Was Last Night to refresh your memory), though at least he wasn't actually debunked until May 21st whereas Comet Elenin is being debunked in my column a month ahead of Doomsday Hour. That doesn't mean people have given up hoping they'll be right and the world will end.
The Elenin doomsday talk began Dec. 10, 2010 when Russian astronomer Leonid Elenin (all the best stuff happens with Russian scientists) 'remotely' discovered it using International Scientific Optical Network's robotic observatory in New Mexico (all the best stuff happens in New Mexico) and immediately weirdos began blaming it for earthquakes, storms on Saturn and predicting it would flip Earth's magnetic field - despite it being really small and twice as far away as the Sun.
Why the hype? People can't (or won't) do basic math. Since it was 1/100,000,000,000th the mass of the Moon and wouldn't ever be even 90 Moon-Earth distances (22 million miles) from us, it might exert 1/100,000,000,000,000th the force of the moon's tidal pull on Earth. Essentially, nothing, unless the gravitational effect of a speck of dust on your car is a concern.
Trajectory of comet Elenin. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
So, no 'three days of darkness', because it was never crossing the Sun's path anyway, and it was only 2 miles wide - the Sun is 400,000 times the size of Comet Elenin so it was not casting any shadow. I say 'was' and you may have noticed other past tense expressions in previous paragraphs - because it turns out to be disintegrating even while we make fun of people over their hysteria believing it was ever a concern. Australian astronomer Michael Mattiazzo made the animated .gif below showing that it may be not even really be a comet any more. A solar flare last month may have blasted it to basically nothing.
Credit: Michael Mattiazzo
Another astronomer, Comet Al, says Elenin is still visible in the STEREO HI1A imager and made this animation below, but it is clearly nothing to speculate about any differently than any other comet and certainly not a world ending event.
Unless, of course, the Hand of God smote it using a solar flare before it could hurt us. That opens up a new realm of conversation for conspiracy websites.
Goodbye C/2010 X1. We hardly knew ye.
Need to have more questions answered about Comet Elenin? Comet Elenin - now with less Doomsday hype
Doomsday Comet Elenin Goes Out With A Whimper