Online craze over looming “comet doomsday”

Doomsday from a comet on web scare list
A misreported April Fool’s joke sparked panic on the internet over a comet discovered by a Russian astronomer. Conspiracy theorists believe that the Elenin comet is an alien spaceship and demand that the scientist discloses data hushed up by NASA.

The web uproar focuses on the comet C/2010 X1, which was first discovered on December 10, 2010. Alien enthusiasts believe that it has a cluster of alien-made objects, most likely spacecraft, hiding in its tail. They fear that when the comet gets closer to Earth, the aliens will show themselves, and the first contact is likely to be a disaster. They expect doomsday on September 10.

The panic-sparking claims originate from Argentinean astronomer Sergio Toscano, whose report on the alien theory was cited by a number of Latin American media outlets. The scientist said the data came from the Chinese national space agency.

But the true origin of the story comes from a British newspaper, which published it as an April Fool’s joke. The astronomer may have been misguided by the fact that the Latin American counterpart for April Fool’s Day, Feast of the Holy Innocents, is celebrated on December 28.

Nevertheless, the internet rumor mill was quick to spread the story, which mutated into an alien invasion scare. Some even matched the comet with the infamous Nibiru planet.

­“Non-existent” scientist’s misadventure

­And the person arguably affected most by the scare is the Russian scientist who discovered the comet in the first place. Leonid Elenin from the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics in Moscow became the first target for the enquiries, demands and threats of all the worried souls.

“It was somewhat funny at first, and I even surfed the internet to see what they say, but now I’m scared to do it. I’m really irritated. I’m really disappointed that this nonsense appeared in the Russian segment of the web,” the astronomer told RIA Novosti news agency.

According to Elenin, conspiracy theorists go as far as claiming that he is a front firm for NASA or other government agencies, who try to put a lid on the information about the alleged upcoming disaster.

“I’ve seen discussions about what Leonid Elenin actually means. ‘Ele’ is ‘extinction level event’ and ‘nin’ is Nibiru in November,” the scientist said.

The astronomer did his best to explain that there is nothing special about the comet he detected, apart from the fact that it was the first comet discovered by a Russian astronomer in two decades.

He believes the hysteria has been fueled by the photo of the comet made by a tracking camera, which resulted in two nearby stars leaving stretched markings.

“There’s the comet flying and there are tracks from the two stars. I read an article claiming those two ‘cylinders’ are the spacecraft,” Elenin explained.

The Elenin comet is to flyby Earth at an estimated distance of 35,000,000 kilometers in mid-October. You would need good binoculars or a telescope to see it harmlessly pass and go away.