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Asteroid to Pass Near Earth on Halloween

by AMNH on

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This Halloween, the Earth will have a visitor nearly on its doorstep. But it won’t be looking for candy or tossing an egg at our windows—it’s asteroid 2015 TB145, and its flyby, while close, is no reason to be scared.

The visitor was discovered earlier this month with the help of the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS-1 telescope, part of NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program, and is an unexpected boon to asteroid researchers.

“Every close-up view of an asteroid tells us more about their structure and composition, information we will need to someday deflect a real threat”, says Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences Curator Denton Ebel.

Asteroid TB145
Discovery image of 2015 TB145 (moving object, middle-right of the image). 
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/University of Hawaii

Since TB145 will be passing the Earth just a little farther than the orbit of the Moon—almost close enough to shout “trick or treat!”—researchers are aiming to learn everything they can about the 400-foot-wide object while the chance presents itself. It likely won’t be visible to the naked eye, but NASA is preparing to get high-resolution looks at the object as it nears Earth using radar and optical imaging.

"The close approach of 2015 TB145 at about 1.3 times the distance of the Moon's orbit, coupled with its size, suggests it will be one of the best asteroids for radar imaging we'll see for several years," Lance Brenner, the head of NASA’s asteroid research program, said in a statement. The unexpected viewing is a great chance to learn more about asteroids, as the next appearance of an object of comparable size so close to Earth is not anticipated until 2027.

Asteroid Earth Moon
A visualization of an asteroid passing near Earth and the Moon.
Courtesy of B612 Foundation

Until then, the Museum offers plenty of other ways to learn about asteroids, including a new series of video explainers featuring Dr. Ebel. You can view the latest, which details the largest asteroids to ever hit the Earth, below.

Other videos in the series explain exactly what asteroids are, what the difference is between a meteorite and a meteor, and why there are no planets in the asteroid belt. And you can look forward to more videos featuring Dr. Ebel in the coming weeks, as he tackles topics like why there are no planets in the asteroid belt.

For a more hands-on lesson about these objects, you can always visit the Museum’s outstanding collection—including the staggeringly heavy Ahnighito, which is supported by steel rods that run all the way down to Manhattan’s bedrock—in the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites.