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Looking for a spooky Halloween tale? How about this? According to NASA scientists, an asteroid measuring between 1,050 to 2,100 feet will be making its way towards Earth on October 31st. While the massive space rock that will be zooming in at a rapid 78,000 mph will not hit us, it will come startlingly close - Within 1.3 times the distance of the moon (about 310,000 miles) - The closest such encounter since 2006.
While the news of any asteroid coming this close to Earth is scary, this one is even more so. That's because researchers did not even know that 2015 TB145 AKA "Spooky" even existed until October 10th. Richard Wainscoat, the principal investigator for Hawaii-based Pan-STARRS telescope that searches the skies for comets, asteroids, and other moving objects, says Spooky managed to sneak upon us due to its strange orbit.
According to Wainscott, the sun and planets are arranged in a flat disk shape, or what experts call an ecliptic plane. Most of the asteroids that lie in the area between Mars and Jupiter orbit within this plane. However, Spooky cuts a path at a 40° angle to the line of the ecliptic plane.
Paul Chodas, who heads up NASA's Near-Object program says that since it is a region of the sky that rarely has any asteroids, it is not searched as often. Another reason the space rock was hard to detect is because it orbits the Sun every three years and, therefore, is not close to Earth very often.
Also similar to other asteroids that sport an oval-shaped orbit it's speed changes depending on the location. When it is furthest away from Earth (and the inner solar system) it moves around slowly, making it difficult to detect. It is only when the asteroid gets closer to the inner solar system that it gets pulled by the sun's gravity and gains momentum. Given that Spooky spends less than 5% of its time in the inner solar system, Chodas thinks it is amazing that we were even able to see it when we did. He attributes this to the thoroughness of NASA's surveys.
Given that there is no danger of any kind, researchers and fans are looking forward to the arrival of special space visitor which will be visible to U.S. residents on the evening of October 30th and well into the early hours (PST) of October 31st.
The close encounter will help researchers deduce the asteroid's exact size and also determine if it has a moon. This would help them ascertain Spooky's mass and allow them calculate its density and composition. However, according to Chodas, the most important reason to observe the surprise visitor is "The more asteroids we can see up close, the more we'll learn about them, and the better prepared we'll be if we ever need to deflect one."
And if you think Spooky is close, then you may want to brace yourself for NEO1999 that will flyby within 1 lunar distance (about 385,000 km) from the Earth's surface in August 2027.