How NASA is studying the ‘Halloween asteroid’ using radar
Three years ago, a spooky, skull-shaped ‘death comet’’ shot past Earth on Halloween night. Now it’s back.
First things first: It won’t actually be passing us on Halloween this year. The asteroid, officially named 2015 TB145, will pass closest to Earth around Nov. 11, CNN reported. But it might still close enough to give you a fright.
NASA scientists first spotted the object when it came close to earth in 2015. They believed the asteroid was actually a “dead” comet that had lost its luminance after too many trips around the solar system, according to a news release from the time.
“We found that the object reflects about six percent of the light it receives from the sun,” said Vishnu Reddy, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, according to the release. “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.”
The asteroid first passed by Earth from about 302,000 miles away — or a little farther than the moon, the researchers said. This year, it will be a lot farther away: 25 million miles, where even to telescopes it won’t “be any larger than a dot of light,” Paul Chodas from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, according to CNN.
“The next slightly more exciting encounter will be around Halloween’s day in the year 2088, when the object approaches Earth to a distance of about 20 lunar distances,” researcher Thomas G. Müller said in a news release.
It may look different now, too. Asteroids can change shape as they get pitted and smacked with other space debris, and Reddy said the asteroid is “much rougher” than scientists originally believed, NBC News reported.
In 2015, the approach was close enough that the asteroid was named “potentially hazardous” - although it did pass without any problems. NASA scientists said on Facebook that they did not expect an approach that close again until at least after 2100.
“One of the directives of the Arecibo Observatory is to measure with high precision the distance to asteroids and their speed, which can be used to study the asteroid’s orbit and predict its motion for hundreds of years,” the scientists wrote.
Still, even if the asteroid won’t be quite as spookily near to us this year, people on social media are still talking about the “death comet.”