Take one space object with a reflectivity number just slightly higher than charcoal. Notice that it arrived close enough to wake up the rarely-alert asteroid warning system workers on October 31st, the date of a popular worldwide holiday. Stare at pictures of its dark surface long enough to conjure up an image that relates to the holiday. Throw in comments from astronomers that it’s “dead.” Stir it all together in a witch’s kettle and you have the Halloween Death Comet, a skull-ish Near Earth Object discovered days before Halloween in 2015 and returning just days after Halloween this year. Should we eat all of our candy quickly before the Death Comet destroys us the planet?
Do you really need a wild excuse like that to eat all of the candy quickly?
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). Before its eerie pareidolic skull image was visible, 2015 TB145 was considered to be dangerous NEO because of its size (between 2,050 feet and 2,297 feet or .6 km to .7 km) and its projected close pass to the Earth -- 300,000 miles (480.000) or just slightly beyond the orbit of the moon at 1.3 lunar distances. We’re still here, so The Great Pumpkin (NASA’s Halloweenish nickname before its scarier face was seen) didn’t get close enough for a hit. What about this time?
“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.”
That’s astronomer-speak for “close enough to justify our funding but not enough to cause a panic.” Pablo Santos-Sanz from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) and other astronomers think the more interesting aspect of the asteroid is the fact that it’s NOT an asteroid. Vishnu Reddy, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, explains why.
"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."
“Coma” is that blurry aura seen around comets as they make their tight turn around the Sun. No coma means no more ice – the definition of a dead comet killed by the Sun – but better conditions for imagining the dead comet looks like a revolving skull glaring with its dead eyes at us Earthlings as it passes. (See how easy pareidolia is?)
2015 TB145 or the Death Skull Halloween Comet Asteroid Great Pumpkin will be closest to Earth on November 11th. It’s a safe bet that you will have no more candy to gorge on by then.