You may need an especially huge bucket of candy to give away on Halloween. According to NASA, a near-Earth asteroid is predicted to fly by our planet on October 31. A “near-Earth asteroid” is, of course, the hair-raising variety of asteroids that come close enough to us to fly safely by, rather than crashing and causing catastrophic damage.
The object is expected to be the closest asteroid to fly past earth since 2006, reports ABC News. Although informally dubbed the “Halloween asteroid,” in actuality, it is officially called 2015 TB145. It’s believed 2015 TB145 will pass our planet “within 1.3 lunar distances” or a distance of approximately 310,000 miles.
While the exact size of the asteroid isn’t known, scientists estimate it to be anywhere between 500 feet to 2,000 feet. Deemed “cometary in nature” with an “extremely eccentric” orbit, NASA officials predict the asteroid will move by Earth at a speed of about 78,000 miles per hour!
— Kimberly Miller (@KMillerWeather) October 21, 2015
One of the more eerie aspects of the asteroid due to pass Earth on Halloween is that scientists have only known about the object for a couple of weeks. Apparently, experts didn’t notice the asteroid’s presence until about October 10. It’s certainly a relief that we’re not dealing with a truly dangerous Halloween asteroid, as humanity would be left with a little over a week to cope with a potentially world-ending event.
However, before you get mad at NASA or other scientists and assume incompetence, it’s important to know that watching space for dangerous objects that can hit us isn’t an easy task. Take the Russian meteorite that broke apart over the Ural Mountains in 2013. While scientists at the time were on the lookout for asteroid 2012 DA124, they missed an event that caused severe damage and injured nearly 1,000 people.
How could they not have seen that meteorite or this recently discovered asteroid coming? Andrew Cheng of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory explained it to Fox News, saying size is a significant factor in helping experts spot space objects. It’s simple: The smaller the item, the closer it has to get before it gets noticed — if it gets noticed at all.
— Decima Computers (@tizai) October 21, 2015
As for how much damage a roaming space object can cause, being tiny doesn’t make these items harmless.
Said Cheng, “It doesn’t take a very large object. A 10-meter size object already packs the same energy as a nuclear bomb.”
The only comforting aspect with regard to the newly discovered Halloween asteroid is that its size may give it some punch, but were scientists to have miscalculated, it’s not estimated to be big enough to end life on Earth as we know it. According to How Stuff Works, size and speed are important factors when determining an asteroid’s ability to wipe out life.
But before you take too big a sigh of relief, the website notes, “If an asteroid strikes Earth, it will be a really, really bad day no matter how big it is. If the asteroid is a mile in diameter, it’s likely to wipe out life on the planet. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon!”
Basically, the Halloween asteroid is the ultimate trick-or-treat event. Will it be a “treat” that stargazers will enjoy or will it trick us into thinking it was a harmless event, and no lives were in danger? Well, we can probably trust NASA on this. Odds are, those who have no interest in Halloween parties, trick-or-treating, or scary movies just found a fun way to spend their evening — provided they have a decent telescope.
And if you miss it, don’t worry! NASA predicts this particular asteroid will swing back around for a visit in 2027.
What do you think of the Halloween asteroid? Do you plan to watch for the asteroid as it flies by? Share your thoughts below!
[Photo by Alexander Gerst / ESA via Getty Images]