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NASA Spots the ‘Great Pumpkin’: Halloween Asteroid a Treat for Radar Astronomers

An asteroid in the shape of a ghoulish skull looks set to fly by Earth again next year, almost exactly 36 months after the creepy space rock was discovered floating through space during the Halloween period.
Dubbed 2015 TB145, or the ‘Halloween asteroid,’ the over 600-meter-wide rock hurtled past Earth on October 31, 2015. Radar images captured by NASA as it came within some 480,000 kilometers of our planet revealed some of the pronounced cavities and ridges that give the macabre looking boulder its distinctive skull-like shape.

Asteroid 2015 TB145 was discovered on Oct. 10, 2015, by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS-1 (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) on Haleakala, Maui, part of the NASA-funded Near-Earth Object Observation (NEOO) Program. 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.

“The trajectory of 2015 TB145 is well understood,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “At the point of closest approach, it will be no closer than about 300,000 miles — 480,000 kilometers or 1.3 lunar distances. Even though that is relatively close by celestial standards, it is expected to be fairly faint, so night-sky Earth observers would need at least a small telescope to view it.”

The gravitational influence of the asteroid is so small it will have no detectable effect on the moon or anything here on Earth, including our planet’s tides or tectonic plates.

The Center for NEO Studies at JPL is a central node for NEO data analysis in NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program and a key group involved with the international collaboration of astronomers and scientists who keep watch on the sky with their telescopes, looking for asteroids that could be a hazard to impact our planet and predicting their paths through space for the foreseeable future.

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