Halloween Asteroid "Spooky" 2015 TB145 Breezes by Earth

"Spooky" the asteroid comes super close — but not too close — to Earth. 

Look! It’s the Great Pumpkin! At least that’s what scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have decided to call the decidedly un-catchy-sounding asteroid 2015 TB145, which is slated to fly by Earth this Halloween weekend.

The near-Earth asteroid, also nicknamed Spooky, will be closest to us on October 31, at about 1.3 times further from Earth than the moon. That means Spooky is just under 300,000 miles away.

This will be the closest an asteroid will be to Earth until 2027. However, scientists didn’t notice Spooky until just weeks ago on October 10, which seems pretty short-notice considering the next super-close asteroid is already on the calendar and scheduled to soar by in more than two decades.

Pan-STARRS scientist Richard Wainscoat tells the CBC the reason scientists didn’t spot Spooky until three weeks ago was due to its “difficult orbit.” He says it’s also a good thing the asteroid isn’t flying any closer to the planet, since there wouldn’t be enough time to do anything about it. Wainscoat explains that an asteroid of Spooky’s size and speed with “an unbelievable amount of energy” would do “just complete devastation” to Earth.

Luckily, Spooky will just give Earth a friendly wave before speeding off into the unknown. Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory (home to the world’s largest, most sensitive dish radio) will be paying Spooky some extra attention this weekend. Scientists there have witnessed more than 80 asteroids this year, with Spooky counted among those. Also checking in on Spooky will be NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as well as National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Scientists at all the research centers will be observing things like Spooky’s orbit, size, and appearance to help determine what future asteroids might be like.

So far, researchers have discovered that Spooky is way bigger than they had originally anticipated. The asteroid — thought to have been around 1,300 feet in diameter — is actually 1,968.5 feet wide and speeding along at more than 21 miles per second.

Here’s a look at some Arecibo’s radar images taken of 2015 TB145 over a 40-minute time span on October 30:

Radar images of asteroid 2015 TB145 taken by Arecibo Observatory

Arecibo Observatory Facebook

Looking at the subtle differences in the progression of radar photos, scientists have already determined that the asteroid looks like it’s rotating clockwise (at a rate of about 5 hours) based off of the positions of the “irregularities” of the light and dark areas on its surface. “The central dark feature may be a large circular depression, possibly an impact crater,” says Universities Space Research Association’s Dr. James Richardson.

However, you don’t need to be a scientist to see Spooky/the Great Pumpkin in action. Got a telescope? You can spot the asteroid near Ursa Major on Halloween at 1:05 p.m. EDT.

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