back to article Earth escapes obliteration by comet

NASA has released another statement on Comet Elenin, the totally insignificant comet it keeps giving out statements about, to say that it has broken up into "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 …


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  1. John Gaunt

    Humor Optional

    ". . . my subcompact automobile exerts a greater gravitational influence on Earth than the comet . . . "

    We must destroy his car before it destroys the world!

    1. Bill B


      He has a car with a black hole in it?

  2. dabooogiemans

    haha, I saw that movie. 2/10

  3. AndrueC Silver badge

    > I cannot begin to guess why this little comet became such a big internet sensation

    It's because a lot of the noisiest people on the internet are idiots.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah NASA, but...

    I think we'd better send Bruce Willis up anyway, just in case.

  5. Def Silver badge

    ""I cannot begin to guess why this little comet became such a big internet sensation," Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Programme Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory..."

    The fact that it's coming out of JPL might have something to do with it. They don't exactly have a pristine record when it comes to space exploration.

  6. Rich 11 Silver badge

    "I cannot begin to guess..."

    "I cannot begin to guess why this little comet became such a big internet sensation"

    I'm happy to make a guess: too many people are too fucking stupid.

  7. DoomHarbinger

    OMG we're all going to die....

    That means the comet was only 3.8 billion double decker buses away! That's almost in my back yard!

  8. Annihilator

    New headline

    "The scientific reality is this modest-sized icy dirtball's influence upon our planet is so incredibly minuscule that my subcompact automobile exerts a greater gravitational influence on Earth than the comet ever would."

    "Don Yeomans' car set to DESTROY THE EARTH!"

    1. stucs201

      They already did

      Why else do you think its in bits?

      1. Paul RND*1000

        Yeah and it's been a while since he showed up on Letterman too.

    2. perlcat

      ...actually, not such a bad idea.

      I have a whole list of untalented loudmouthed and ignorant celebrities that should be drafted for a one-way mission to save the earth.

      They kill the comet and don't come back, we win.

      They don't kill the comet and don't come back, we win.

      They miss the comet entirely and don't come back, WE STILL WIN!

      There seems to be a pattern here...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Except for one scenario

        They make a film about it, we lose. Fuck.

      2. LateNightLarry

        ... better idea...

        Rather than send loudmouthed and ignorant celebrities, we should reinstate the draft and send all the Republican candidates for President and their "job creators" on a mission to save Earth...

        They kill the comet and don't come back, we win.

        They don't kill the comet and don't come back, we win.

        They miss the comet entirely and don't come back, WE STILL WIN!

        And we wouldn't have to cut their taxes...

    3. Asgard

      @"the comet was only 3.8 billion double decker buses away!"

      Yeah but its an old rock, so it has an OAP bus pass to travel where it likes.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fight fire with fire

      NASA have to speak to these people on their terms:

      "Stupid Internet rumour is stupid"

      Then it might sink in.

    5. Chad H.

      Standard units please

      I believe the correct unit for things of that size is the Wales rather than the bus. Could somone please correct this figure?

      1. Grease Monkey

        Sorry no. Areas are measured in Waleses. Distances should be measured in Gootball Pitches, heights in Nelsons Columns and volumes in Swimming Pools (Olympic). As an alternative to any of those last three you could always use the universal constant that is the Jumbo Jet.

    6. Grease Monkey

      It became a sensation because somebody started the ball rolling and NASA issued a denial. As far as conspiracy theorists are concerned, if somebody connected with the government denies something then that means it must be a cover up. Had NASA simply ignored the idiot rumours they would have fizzled out after a couple of days.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    "... most pose no threat to Earth"

    MOST? How comforting.

    Seems to me that it only takes ONE to really ruin my day, if that ONE decides to pay the planet a visit with a direct hit.

  10. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    OhMyGodWe'reAllGoingTo... er... not die? Oh. Spiffy!

  11. Colin Millar

    Poorly educated NASA boffins

    "I cannot begin to guess why this little comet became such a big internet sensation," - Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Programme

    What kinda scientist is he?

    Has he never heard of the inverse proportionality rule of triviality and the web

  12. jake Silver badge

    One big bullet, or a shotgun blast?

    Remember, kiddies, F=MA ... It doesn't matter how many chunks you cut it into, the mass and vector remains the same. If it hits the Earth, the total energy transfer will also be the same. Think about it.

    1. easyk


      but many smaller objects have mugh greater surface area and thus experience much greater drag. More of the energy will be dissapated in the atmosphere. Which if I had to choose I would rather it be. that or a large sparcly populated desert area. or Las Vegas.. that would be fine too.

      1. Tom 13

        Not to mention the secondary and tertiary factors.

        The break up means the pieces are now on different orbits. Some of those pieces will now be sucked up by other planets. And of the ones that get past the other planets, some of those will miss the earth completely.

      2. jake Silver badge

        @easyk (and others)

        Greater drag, perhaps.

        But a mountain-sized lump of ice and rock entering the Earth's comparatively shallow "gas cushion" will certainly tunnel through to make land-fall, regardless. It would create a really, really narsty mess.

        I'm amused by all the folks who fail to understand the scale of this kind of event (which WILL happen, hopefully not in my lifetime).

    2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


      What is your bullet-proof vest (atmosphere) is more likely to stop - a big bullet or a bunch of shotgun pellets?

    3. Matt Piechota

      "Remember, kiddies, F=MA ... It doesn't matter how many chunks you cut it into, the mass and vector remains the same. If it hits the Earth, the total energy transfer will also be the same. Think about it."

      While true, the increased surface area means much more will burn up in the atmosphere.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Except you forgot the relationship between surface area, mass and how things burn up in the atmosphere.

      1. RTNavy

        Energy divided by cubic meter is Power Density

        Energy is Mass times speed of light squared.

        Break up the mass into a larger space (bits spread apart by the breakup) you then have a lower power density.

        Yes the same amount of energy is converted (can't create or destroy energy but only convert it in form) but is spread out over larger area.

    5. D@v3

      yeah, but....

      if it were lots of smaller pieces, they would stand a better chance of burning up on entry. Also, the 'total energy transfer' would be spread out over a much larger area (unless it was cut into chunks that didn't drift apart, at all) instead of all of it hitting in exactly the same place.

    6. Paul RND*1000

      I did think about it. The atmosphere means that a single large chunk with a mass of, for example, 100 tonnes, stands a much greater chance of reaching the ground with some intact mass than any one of 100 chunks each weighing 1 tonne do.

    7. Remy Redert

      re:One big bullet, or a shotgun blast?

      Indeed, the total energy transfer will be approximately the same. However because the chunks have a much larger total surface area, they will experience far more drag in the upper atmosphere and because they have a much smaller volume each compared to their surface area, will experience more severe and deeper heating.

      So while the planet will receive the same amount of energy total, most of that energy will be wasted into the upper atmosphere as the chunks burn up instead of falling to the ground and killing people.

      1 big rock == 1 big crater, lots of dust, dead people, etc.

      hundreds of small rocks == Most burn up on entry, those that don't burn up completely leave a few small craters scattered across the landscape. Some people might get unlucky and get hurt in the process.

    8. Dark Stoat


      It missed already!

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        The atmosphere I'm breathing right now? You want the big comet to burn up in that atmosphere?

        You don't think there may be a little problem with the sky catching fire, for those of us underneath it? Which, what with the jetstream and all, is probably everybody.

        You know, 65 million years before present, mostly buried underground, is a single thin worldwide layer of space-deposited iridium... and soot. The world burned.

        Fortunately, less so this week. The rate at which space rock continually falls onto Earth is fairly steady. When we go through a comet's orbit it gets noisy...

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE: One big bullet, or a shotgun blast

      OTOH the surface area increases, and with it friction, which means that there is a high chance that if it enters the atmosphere it will burn up easier.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thought about it.

      The total surface area of the mass will vastly increase after a breakup which will affect any heat transfer and melt the ice ball far more quickly.

      Bits bouncing off each other due to outgassing may deflect some of them off their normal path.

      Of the bits that don't melt, the variously sized/massed bits will be affected differently by air resistance in the outer atmosphere, slowing each at a different rate. This will spread the total mass out over a longer trail which will impact the lower atmosphere over a longer period of time resulting in a lower total rate of energy transfer.

    11. Vic

      > It doesn't matter how many chunks you cut it into, the mass and vector remains the same.

      But the surface area increases dramatically.

      > If it hits the Earth, the total energy transfer will also be the same.

      Only if it all hits the Earth.

      Because of the increased surface area, far more of an inbound object would burn up in the atmosphere. The energy will be dissipated as light and heat, rather than transferred into the planet.

      So although you are right in that the total amount of energy entering the atmosphere will be the same, you are wrong in thinking that the same amount of energy will transfer to the Earth.


    12. RTNavy

      Energy Transfer

      Force doesn't equal the amount of energy to be dissapated by the comet striking the earth, so the equation of F=MA is irrelevant. The equation to use is E=MC (squared).

      You have to calculate the total energy to be converted from on form to another (Kinetic energy of the comet to heat). Then if you spread that energy across many smaller pieces you now have a much larger surface area for friction to act on the bodies spread out over larger area of the planet, so then the "power density" or amount of energy per cubic meter is now decreased as well.

      Meaning lesser impact over the wider area of the event.

      1. Grease Monkey

        It's all irrelevant anyway. The comet was never going to hit the earth. So it matters not whether it broke up.

      2. Chemist

        "The equation to use is E=MC (squared)."

        Please don't post on issues you clearly can't understand

    13. IDoNotThinkSo

      The 50 megaton Tsar Bomba set off over London would make for a bad day.

      The sun hits the earth with roughly the same amount of energy every second.

      Its not how much energy that matters, its what it ends up doing.

    14. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Unless, of course...

      ...only PART of the cloud of bits hits the earth while the other part skims on by, instead of the whole mass hitting in central impact...

      ...or the moon happens to be in position to block part of the debris cloud (Sure, it's unllkely -- but so is a comet colliding with the Earth!)...

      ...or if the smaller bits have time to vaporize in atmosphere before impact...

      ...or... or... or...

  13. Nick Ryan Silver badge


    Shame on you unbelievers. The world ended a few days ago, we are now figments of our own nightmares, living in purgatory, the matrix or whatever half-brained the "world is ending on XXX date" come up with to excuse their insanity this time.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    how does

    a comet just randomly, after probably millions of years going round in circles, just randomly break up into loads of smaller chunks? can anyone enlighten me?

  15. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Keep denying the truth, looser! Cain's 6-6-6 is already STARTING!!!

    G-d is magnificent, then he give us magnicent signs. The times are near we all know, we can feel them. Aliens will show themselves also: watchers, the fallen angels, the annunaki..ppl will blieve in them and not in G-d our creator and father. Each one of us will be making a choice. Prepare the soul, we r free G-d made us free, is ur personal choice BUT U KNOW THE SIGNALS AND HAVE BEEN WARNED. Also check the alignment in 1994 when the cross form in sky with the 4 animals from the revelations...

    1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Take a handful of rocks...

      ...and pack them into a snowball. This is your average comet.

      The tail of a comet is mainly snow and water vapor that is boiled off as your dirty snowball passes near the sun. When the comet leaves the inner solar system and heads back into the up-and-out, it re-freezes.

      Eventually two things can happen -- either there is not enough snow and ice left to hold everything together as it passes the sun and things start scattering due to light pressure and gravitational perturbations, or a particularly large and juicy pocket of ice in the center of the mass boils off more quickly than the resulting vapor can escape and blows the thing apart.

      NB: IANAA, but the above is my understanding of the processes.

      1. Tom 13

        Your processes are good

        but your snowball model is a bit old. Recent research indicates your rocky snowball is actually a negative of the actual object - it's more like snow packed into a hole strewn rock.

        1. Mike Moyle Silver badge
          Thumb Up


          It's been a while (obviously) since I read up.

    2. Tel


      Er... run that one past me again? I think the Lizard People might have messed up my Universal Translator and turned your comment into gobbledegook...

    3. SoftFox
      IT Angle

      Its broken up due to the gravitational forces of entering the solar system. (The sun mostly). Its more common than you think. A lot of our meteor showers are the legacy of disintegrated comets.

  16. dave 93

    Never underestimate the stupidity of the average person.

    Then remember that means that half of people must actually be more stupid than that! - :D

    1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Depends which average... I suspect more than half are more stupid than the mean stupidity level.

      1. Grease Monkey

        I thought that the rule was that the average IQ of a mob always somehow manages to be slightly lower than that of it's stupidest member.

  17. Asgard

    @"most of whom tragically died during the mission"

    Well we will name a school after them. :)

  18. The last doughnut

    Er, hang on

    At closest approach it was about 100 times away from the Earth as the Moon is. If it was only five times closer you would have to admit it was significantly close. Then if it was twenty times closer still it would be a bit of a wake up call.

    I wonder how many of these things are out there.

    Remember, in near-Earth-orbit, nobody can hear you cay "ooh that was close".

  19. Mondo the Magnificent

    Comet Elenin

    A lot of the prophets of doom have been rambling on about the good Comet Elenin and how it's going to bring our world to an abrupt end.

    Some of these doom mongers have even claimed the name is an acronym for "Extinction Level Event Nibiru Is Near"

    So, NASA not to be outdone by those with hobbyist telescopes, reams of "facts" and the use of YouTube to broadcast these theories of earthquakes, tidal waves and killer weather pasterns have obviously decided to "take control" of this extra terrestrial object in regards to updating us on it.

    It makes sense, NASA have the equipment, the expertise, so we should believe all they tell us and totally ignore those thousands of "crazies" who've predicted our demise

    Sure, not everyone will believe NASA, but... if we see it on CCN or BBC, read it in the newspaper, then perhaps the majority of the planet's inhabitants will assume that NASA is telling the truth........ Right?

    Now please excuse me, I have a bunker do dig...

  20. Yag


    Missed AGAIN!

  21. Paul RND*1000

    The Internet is made of stupid

    "pass close enough to the planet that its gravitational pull would cause loads of earthquakes"

    So this comet, it's not made of ice and rock like a normal comet, it is in fact Jupiter cunningly disguised as a comet? W...T...*F*, people?

    Never mind Don's car, the simpletons who sit in their parents' basement eating bag after bag of Cheezy Poofs and posting daft conspiracy theories to the Internet exert more gravitational pull on the earth than a comet 22 million miles away does.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      "Never mind Don's car, the simpletons who sit in their parents' basement eating bag after bag of Cheezy Poofs and posting daft conspiracy theories to the Internet exert more gravitational pull on the earth than a comet 22 million miles away does."

      In other words, they suck.

  22. adnim Silver badge


    Comets have been missing the Earth for a long time.

  23. Big_Boomer Bronze badge

    You are more likely to die from being hit by a Duck Billed Platypus driving a Monster Truck than from a Comet strike.

    As for the stupidity of the "Internet", myself and some friends formulated a theory one night after a few beers. We believe that intelligence is inversely proportional to the number of people in close proximity.

    So, 2 people with an IQ of 150 would have a combined IQ of 75.

    3 people would be a combined IQ of 50.

    You can just imagine (and experience) the combined IQ of a football stadium or an "Internet".

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      You saw that episode of Fineas and Ferb too?

      Don't worry, after the comet hits, an unbelievable coincidence will mysteriously clear everything up before Mom gets home.

    2. Michael Chester

      Terry Pratchett's Theory of Mobs

      (from one of the Guards books, can't remember which)

      The IQ of a mob is equal to the IQ of its stupidest member divided by the number of people in the mob.

      Seems to work on the internet too

  24. You Are Not Free


    "b) pass close enough to the planet that its gravitational pull would cause loads of earthquakes and similar cataclysms and obliterate all life"

    This comet the size of Jupiter then is it?

  25. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Thank you for that precision, M. Yeoman

    In other news, the Internet can now start panicking over how the Earth is more at danger from the subatomic particles of JPL scientists than from comets.

    Tune in at 11 for details on this new threat to our lives . . .

  26. NomNomNom

    correct me if I am wrong but has this Don Yeomans fellow taken into account the additional gravitational force of the black hole created by the LHC last year?

    1. Tom 13

      Only on the inside,

      on the outside it's the size of a golf ball and very easy to miss. So be careful out there people!

  27. edge_e

    Comet Elenin

    Maybe Dexys Midnight runners can fix it

    1. Figgus
      Thumb Up

      I'm embarrassed to admit that I got that, but +1 for the reference...

  28. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    will create conspiracies for beer and nuts

    So, first we're told the US's B53 9Mt happy slapper has been dismantled. Now we're told the doomsday comet has suddenly broken into lots of insignificant chunks. Convenient huh? Nuke missing, comet missing. Cause and effect I say!

    Rapid, energetic self-dismantling of the B53 in the near proximity Elenin lead to it's demise. NASA would have claimed responsibility except for "This trail of piffling particles will remain on the same path as the original comet" is now radioactive, so we're still doomed, dooomed I tell you.

    (but not till after the weekend please, I have plans)

  29. dssf

    Confidence is one thing; borderline arrogance another...

    NASA, QUIT, while we're seemingly ahead... QUIT insulting the Universe before she decides to whack us one! Occasional quakes are one thing. Don't tempt cosmic tendrils to upstage our puny existence just yet! PLEASE???!!!

  30. Beachrider

    Bring a roll of paper towels with you...

    Have fun boys...

  31. Dick Emery

    It was just a practice run for next year.

  32. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    It all makes sense now!!!

    So, comet Elenin breaks up, and......

    1) I haven't seen Bruce Willis in the news the last couple weeks

    2) The EU has finally finished bailing out Greece

    3) The U.S. is cutting NASA's budget and is cutting discretionary spending

    So obviously the costly joint U.S./European rescue mission (and that whole "financial crisis" cover for the trillions in spending needed to fund the mission) has ended with the successful deflection and destruction of comet Elenin. Of course, Bruce Willis heroically gave his life to stay on the comet and detonate the final nuke (word has it his last words were "yippee-ky-ayy mother!!!"), thus selflessly saving mankind and assuring that his last 10 years of mediocre acting will not be what he is remembered for.

    Ok, can we get on to the feel-good conclusion and start naming high schools and children after Bruce?

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Arrival

    We all know JPL is really run by aliens set to destroy humanity.

  34. FozzyBear Silver badge

    God Damn it

    The rapture, Death and Destruction by comet, isn't there anything that going to save me from the pigs breakfast of project I have to start on monday.

    These modern day prophets and doomsays you just can't trust them to get anything right

  35. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

    OK, no impact, BUT:

    what about the reddish dessicating radiations? The ones that will slowly turn most of us into flesh-craving zombies?*

    We're all doomed! DOOMED!

    *and will turn the remainder of us into sauerkraut-haired, orange-and-green-spandex-clad pop-loving trigger-happy tarts.

  36. F111F

    Next Crisis: 2011UL21...

    And, weighing in at 2.4 X 10(13)kg with a projected impact energy of 2.1 X 10(6)MT, is our next contender for "Reason to Panic". Currently, you have until June 26, 2032 to enjoy yourselves, or find a way to deflect this mountain aimed straight at us...

    Of course odds of 1 in 4,762,000 don't really matter do they? Why ruin a good opportunity to party for the next 20 years?

  37. jestersbro

    Grumpy scientist wants to release a real statement.

    I think the statement from Don Yeoman of NASA's NEO Programme Office at JPL could be summed up as "NNNEEEEERRRRRGHHHHH!!!! Will you just f*ck off with your stupidity and let me get back to work!!!"

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Halley's Icy Dirtball

    I think that's a great improvement in naming.

  39. banjomike
    Thumb Up


    NASA are becoming the masters of sarcasm.

  40. DrXym Silver badge

    Nutters are not interested in your science

    ""I cannot begin to guess why this little comet became such a big internet sensation," Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Programme Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in the statement."

    Some people are very vocal and very delusional. Given the significance of comets in prophecies, cataclysmic theories (Velikovsky etc.) it is not surprising that reality takes a back seat in their minds.

  41. DJV Silver badge

    Option d

    It will cause a slight draft and cause Bruce Forsyth's wig to momentarily flap about.

  42. voice of unreason

    Because NASA are being unreasonably scary, and don't do numbers very well?

    But NASA said that the gravitational influence was less then "my subcompact automobile on the earth". Wait a f*ing moment. That comet was about a cubic km, and 22 million miles away, masses around 10^9 tonnes.

    Inverse-square, he's about right if he means "the gravitational pull effect of my 1-ton car 700 miles away". But tides are what are relevant, and they are inverse-cube, not inverse-square.

    So actually, what he could have said in moron-approved units is:

    "less than the effect of the weight of Berlusconi sticking up two fingers from Italy"

    "less than a sugar-cube across the state of Texas"

    "the weight of a single atom in the doughnut on your desk"

    I mean, talk about scare in America are BIG, even the subcompacts

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