An asteroid that looks like a skull is expected to zip past Earth just after Halloween this year.
The space rock, officially known as 2015 TB145, also flew past our planet in 2015. It was discovered on Oct. 10, 2015 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS-1) at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii. It is now coming back for another visit, which astronomers expect to occur in early November.
NASA dubbed the asteroid The Great Pumpkin because it flew by on Halloween three years ago.
The asteroid does not always visit on a Halloween though. The extraterrestrial rock has an orbital period of 1,112 days, or just over three years. This means that everytime it visits Earth, it will occur a little later than the last time.
The asteroid reflects just 5 to 6 percent of sunlight that hits it, which means it is very dark. Astrophysicist Pablo Santos-Sanz, from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain, said that the object is only slightly more reflective than charcoal.
Scientists also think that the object is a dead comet. According to Space, the asteroid may be an extinct comet that lost its water and other volatile materials after many revolutions around the sun.
Astronomers expect that during the 2018 flyby, the asteroid will be around 105 times the distance between the Earth and moon.
The proximity of the asteroid from our planet when it zipped past Earth on October 31, 2015 was about 300,000 miles, or 1.3 lunar distances. It was the asteroid’s closest approach to our planet for the next 500 years.
“According to the catalog of near-Earth objects (NEOs) kept by the Minor Planet Center, this is the closest currently known approach by an object this large until asteroid 1999 AN10, at about 2,600 feet (800 meters) in size, approaches at about 1 lunar distance (238,000 miles from Earth) in August 2027,” NASA said.
Although the asteroid will be further away on its next visit, astronomers still look forward to the flyby as this will provide them with an opportunity to study extraterrestrial objects that get relatively near Earth. Studying space rocks, such as the skull-shaped dead comet, also offer scientists more insights about the evolution of the solar system.
“Although this approach shall not be so favourable, we will be able to obtain new data which could help improve our knowledge of this mass and other similar masses that come close to our planet,” Santos-Sanz said in a statement published by the Information and Scientific News Service.