Comet Elenin (C/2010 X1), widely known for inaccurate reports of its threat to Earth, appears to be breaking apart. Observations by amateur astronomer Michael Mattiazzo of Castlemaine, Australia show a marked dimming and elongation of the comet's nucleus over a ten day period.
The behavior of Comet Elenin is akin to that of Comet LINEAR (C/1999 S4), which disintegrated when it approached the sun in back in 2000. Mattiazzo witnessed that event, too. "Yes I did observe the breakup of C/1999 S4 in July 2000," he recalls. "It was quite spectacular watching the nucleus spread out into a cigar shape over a period of days. The apparent breakup of C/2010 X1 is similar, although less visually spectacular."
Comets are fragile objects, easily disrupted by solar heat. As a result, the possible breakup of Comet Elenin, while unexpected, comes as no surprise.
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