The Halloween Asteroid passed us by on the last day of October 2015. Asteroid 2015 TB145 has been dubbed as the “Halloween Asteroid” for two reasons, one of which involves its rather eerie shape.
Just when you thought Halloween couldn’t get any scarier, a giant skull-shaped asteroid flew by our Earth. The huge asteroid, officially labeled as “2015 TB145” is the size of a football stadium and had a close encounter with our planet. According to NASA, the asteroid came closest to earth on October 31, perhaps to commemorate Halloween.
Though NASA has been calling it either the “Great Pumpkin,” “Halloween Asteroid,” or “Spooky” to celebrate the festival of all things scary, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico picked up a rather sinister looking version of asteroid 2015 TB145, said Kelly Fast, IRTF program scientist at NASA Headquarters.
“The (Infrared Telescope Facility) data may indicate that the object might be a dead comet, but in the Arecibo images it appears to have donned a skull costume for its Halloween flyby.”
Interestingly, the asteroid was discovered this year on October 10 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS-1 (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) on Haleakala, Maui. Since then, it has been eagerly discussed by avid astronomers and star gazers. Though two observatories, the Goldstone radio telescope and the Arecibo radio scope had been tracking it, the latter’s observations produced an interesting animation of the asteroid. The images that came through eerily resemble a skull. Those interested can head over to Slooh.com, to get a detailed view of the asteroid.
Though it might look scary, prompting many to label it as some kind of premonition, the asteroid is completely harmless, assured NASA. The asteroid’s rather large elliptical trajectory caused it to flyby earth at 1.01 p.m. EDT (17:01 GMT). It passed by earth at a very safe distance of about 302,000 miles (480,000 kilometers). Though it might have come little close to our moon, it never posed a threat to Earth or its tiny satellite, but it did allow astronomers a chance to ping the space rock with radar to learn more about what it’s like, reported Space.
The observations strongly indicate that the asteroid rotates about its own axis once every six hours. 2015 TB145 doesn’t have any moons. The asteroid is travelling at a speed of 78,293 mph (126,000 km/h).
According to Slate, the size of the asteroid is derived empirically by observing how much light is reflected from its surface. 2015 TB145 reflects only about six percent, which indicates it is roughly 1,968.5 feet (600 meters) across, reported Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Explaining the origins of the asteroid, Vishnu Reddy, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona said the following.
“We found that the object reflects about six percent of the light it receives from the sun. That is similar to fresh asphalt, and while here on Earth we think that is pretty dark, it is brighter than a typical comet which reflects only 3 to 5 percent of the light. That suggests it could be cometary in origin — but as there is no coma evident, the conclusion is it is a dead comet.”
Incidentally, the image of the asteroid that resembles a skull doesn’t actually depict how the asteroid looks like. The image vaguely looks like a skull because radio telescopes use radar that bounces off the asteroid and the data that is returned is merely visually represented, which just so happens, looked like a skull for asteroid 2015 TB145.
Interestingly, the Halloween flyby in October 2015 will be the closest approach of an object as large as asteroid 2015 TB145. 2015 TB145 is expected to flyby our planet next in September 2018. However, during its next visit, it will be at a distance of 24 million miles.
[Photo by Arecibo Observatory]