Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

2/8/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Traditionally, comets protend doom, but science weighs in.

Another comet passing near the sun is brightening close to naked-eye visibility. If the comet brightens further, it will become the first of no less than three such comets to appear visible to the naked eye in 2013 alone, making this year the "Year of the Comet."

Comets, celestial treats or harbingers of doom?

Comets, celestial treats or harbingers of doom?

Article Highlights

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/8/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: comet, Lemmon, ISON, Pan-STAARS, naked-eye, visible, Year of the Comet, doom, doomsday, predictions, birghtness, visible


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The new comet, Lemmon (C/2012 F6) was discovered in March of last year, but was not initially expected to reach naked-eye visibility. However, observers report that it has become easily visible in binoculars to sky watchers in the southern hemisphere and that it will probably brighten to naked-eye visibility this month.

Comet Lemmon is unusual both for its surprising brightness as well as its color. For unlike most comets which blaze white in the nighttime sky, comet Lemmon is green.

Green comets are unusual, but not entirely rare. The green color is cast off by frozen crystals of cyanogen and diatomic carbon gas, which happen to glow green when illuminated by sunlight. Notably, cyanogen is also poisonous to humans.

Comet Lemmon will be visible to northern hemisphere observers by April or May of 2013. By that time, it will be receding back into the depths of the solar system on its 11,000-year orbit. Northern hemisphere observers will need a telescope to observe it at that time.

Still, observers in the north should not fret, for they have front-row seats for the next two comets that are expected to put on a dazzling show. Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) will be visible to northern hemisphere observers next month, while Comet ISON, may become one of the brightest comets in history. Astronomers say it has the potential to be visible even in the daytime sky with a brightness that rivals that of the full moon.

With three naked-eye comets on tap for this year, scientists are referring to 2013 as the Year of the Comet.

Is this unusual?

Bright naked-eye comets which grab news headlines tend to appear on the average of once every ten years or so. Some decades have a couple more, most less. Comets that are visible to the naked eye appear almost yearly, however, they are usually too dim to be seen from all but the darkest skies and they capture little public interest.

More commonly, there are comets which can be seen with binoculars and there are always at least one or two comets which amateur astronomers can view with the aid of backyard telescopes.

At any given time, there are usually about a dozen or so comets streaking through the inner solar system. They are easily tracked by astronomers with more sophisticated equipment. However, these comets pass too far away from Earth and are too small to be visible from Earth. Therefore, while comets constantly swirl about the sun, we only see the closest and the brightest ones, which are rare.

However, years with more than one naked-eye comet are very rare, and three is unprecedented in recent history. Now added that one may be visible in daylight, and we are enjoying an astronomical treat that probably won't be repeated in this lifetime.

What does all this portend? Is this a sign of something greater at work?

Typically, in the time before astronomy came of age as a science, comets were seen as signs in the heavens, often presaging doom. A comet that was visible in the daytime sky during 44 B.C., was regarded as a sign of Julius Caesar's divinity. The comet shone brightly for a week just after his assassination.

Other comets have less stellar associations. One comet, famously embroidered onto the Bayeux Tapestry, was said to portend the Norman conquest of England and the fall of King Harold who would be defeated at the battle of Hastings. That comet was later identified as Halley's Comet, which passes near the Earth every 75.3 years.

Another comet was said to predict the coming of the bubonic plague to Europe in the mid-14th century, and another in 1630, which was visible during the daytime, was blamed for bringing famine and pestilence to the people of Europe.

The return of comet Halley in 1910 caused widespread panic when it was reported that Earth would pass through its tail of dust and gas. Some doomsayers even predicted the comet would poison the planet.

Later, in the 1990s the appearance of comets Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake, were said to herald the dawning of the War on Terror, which continues to this day.

Despite the traditional association of comets with doom, in reality there is no statistical link between the appearance of naked-eye comets and general human misfortune. Given that war, famine, plague, and pestilence, are generally part of the human experience somewhere, comets seem to be otherworldly scapegoats more than harbingers of misfortune.

Furthermore, there is no physical link between comets and planet Earth, outside of the annual meteor showers that regularly grace our skies. Most people do not realize that comet dust and gas is quite diffuse. So diffuse in fact, that spacecraft which have been deliberately passed through the tails of comets have all emerged unscathed.

The most a spacecraft has been impacted by a comet tail has was the International Comet Explorer (ICE) which passed through the tail of comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985. The craft experienced about one impact per second from dust and those particles were about the same size as the particles which make up smoke. In other words, the particles were so tiny and so diffuse that they posed no harm.

If an unshielded spacecraft can fly through the tail of a comet unscathed, then the planet should fare quite well.

None of the three comets visible this year will pass close enough to Earth to brush us with their tails anyway.

So the good news is, we're in for a real treat, if the predictions hold true. And better yet, you may now watch the  astronomical event of a lifetime without any fear of doom as a result.

As science has shown, humanity suffers evil regularly even without comets to blame, so quit worrying and enjoy the show!

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for April 2014
Ecology and Justice:
That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick: That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.



Comments


More Technology

Earth struck by powerful asteroids at least twice a year Watch

Image of Data from monitoring stations which were originally designed to enforce a nuclear test ban treaty has discovered that the Earth is enduring far more dangerous asteroid impacts than previously thought.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Earth was hit by 26 asteroids between the years of 2000 and 2013. The asteroids exploded with a force of between one and 600 kilotons. This phenomenon occurred on average once every six months. More alarmingly, these bodies weren't detected in space and ... continue reading


Upstart Aereo service could change the way world watches TV. Supreme Court will now decide. Watch

Image of Based in Brooklyn, Aereo lets

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Aereo, a tiny, TV streaming service that lets users get their favorite programs through rented antennas is accused of violating broadcasters' copyrights. The Supreme Court appears hesitant in deciding the ABC vs. Aereo lawsuit. The decision could very well ... continue reading


New plan by FDA will help critically sick get early access to care Watch

Image of The FDA's new program aims to get test products into the hands of patients who have no other treatment options.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a new program aimed at speeding up approvals for medical devices for patients who have no other treatment options available, on April 22. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Called the Expedited Access Premarket ... continue reading


Miracle substance grown in common household blender Watch

Image of Graphene's incredibly strength and flexibility make the material highly useful in manufacturing electronics.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A team of scientists from Ireland and the UK may have just discovered a quick new way to mass produce the wonder material grapheme. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Published in the journal Nature Materials, the team outlines how they managed to produce a quantity ... continue reading


STEM CELL BREAKTHROUGH? Have researchers achieved 'therapeutic cloning' of adults? Watch

Image of The ultimate goal must always respect the dignity of every human life

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

For the first time, researchers claim to have achieved "therapeutic cloning" of adults, which involves producing embryonic cells genetically identical to a donor. It marks the first step in what is called reproductive cloning, or producing a genetic duplicate ... continue reading


DEATH FROM SKIES: Asteroids have missed major cities by sheer luck, scientists say Watch

Image of One asteroid, believed to have hit Earth 3.26 billion years ago, was 36 miles wide, which scientists said was six times bigger than the blast which wiped out dinosaurs.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Barring an incident in Russia last year, asteroids striking the Earth have had very little impact on human life so far that large-scale asteroids have struck Earth three to ten times more often over the past decade than previously thought. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


A NEW EARTH? Astronomers discover remarkably similar planet to our own Watch

Image of The Goldilocks zone, or habitable zone, is the belt around a star where temperatures are ideal for liquid water to pool on a planet's surface.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Astronomers have announced that they have found a planet that is remarkably similar to Earth. Called Kepler-186f, the planet 1.1 times the size of Earth orbiting a star - "only" 490 light years away. Kepler-186f is the first planet discovered with the right ... continue reading


EYES TO THE HEAVENS: Astronomers say there may be a 'new Saturn moon' Watch

Image of The disturbance in the edge of the ring is 20 percent brighter than its surroundings and about 750 miles long and six miles wide.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

All eyes are on the heavens as astronomers theorize that another moon for the ringed planet of Saturn may be on its way. If the heavenly body in the rings of Saturn is confirmed, it would make for the planet's 63rd moon. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


IS THE SECOND COMING NIGH? Four blood moons this year all occur on Jewish holidays Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

As climate change wreaks havoc worldwide, and relations between the U.S. and Russia reach a low point over Ukraine, some Christians say that the phenomenon of the "Blood moon" may mean that Christ's return is rapidly approaching. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic ... continue reading


Will Alibaba devour Facebook? China's massive Alibaba is coming to conquer the United States Watch

Image of Yahoo's dominance has since dwindled as Alibaba has since grown into a global powerhouse.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Ali Baba for those in the west usually means the storybook leader of a gang of fearless, 40 thieves. But this will soon change. A massive e-commerce site from China, Alibaba, with revenue larger than Amazon and eBay combined has decided to go public in the ... continue reading


All Technology News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Acts 3:11-26
11 Everyone came running towards them in great ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 8:2, 5, 6-7, 8-9
2 even through the mouths of children, or of babes in ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 24:35-48
35 Then they told their story of what had happened on ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 24th, 2014 Image

St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen
April 24: Franciscan Capuchin martyr. He was born Mark Rey is Sigmaringen, ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter