Spooky "Death Comet" Will Fly By Earth Shortly After Halloween

By

487 Words 3-Minute Listen
This image of asteroid 2015 TB145 was generated using radar data collected by the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico on Oct. 30, 2015. (Photo Credit: NAIC-Arecibo/NSF)

It’s creepy, spooky, and scheduled to rendezvous with Earth shortly after Halloween, on November 11, 2018. Before you get your hopes up, we are not talking about an alien, but asteroid 2015 TB145, a skull-shaped space rock nicknamed ”Death Comet.” This is the second appearance of the eerie-looking asteroid that was first observed by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS-1 (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) telescope on October 10, 2015.

During its initial visit, the comet zipped past at an unusually high speed of more than 78,000 miles per hour and came within 310,000 miles of Earth — nearly as close as our moon. What made the asteroid even more memorable was the timing of the encounter - at around 11:14 AM EST on Oct. 31! While NASA viewed the close flyby as a scientific opportunity to study the space rock’s physical properties in detail, the superstitious worried it would crash land into Earth, killing thousands. Though the fear failed to materialize, thanks to its appearance, the moniker “Death Comet” stuck.

Unfortunately, the 2018 flyby will not be as thrilling. In addition to being a few weeks after Halloween, the comet will also zoom past our planet from a “safe” 24 million miles away. "This time it's not coming close enough [to Earth] to be any larger than a dot of light," said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Center for Near Earth Object Studies. There is also the possibility that the asteroid’s rapid pace may have smoothed its edges such that it looks nothing like the scary comet of 2015. Nevertheless, given that we will not encounter the “Death Comet” again until 2088, its second visit is generating as much excitement as the first one.

Images of 2015 TB145 were captured by the Green Bank Telescope during the early morning hours of Halloween 2015. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR/NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Asteroid 2015 TB145, which measures 2,300 feet (701 meters) wide, is believed to be a dead comet. This means it has already spread its debris throughout space and, therefore, does not leave behind a trail of fiery meteors. “We found that the object reflects about 6 percent of the light it receives from the sun,” Vishnu Reddy, a research scientist at Arizona’s Planetary Science Institute, said in a 2015 news release. “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 [visible atmosphere] evident, the conclusion is it is a dead comet.”

However, the researcher argues that there is no scientific basis to call it a “Death Comet.” Perhaps that’s why NASA prefers to call it the “Great Pumpkin.” Others assert that an intriguing name like the “Death Comet” is more likely to engage youth and perhaps even inspire them to enter the sciences. What do you think? Be sure to voice your opinion by voting below.

Resources: JPL.NASA.gov, huffingtonpost.com,mnn.com,

Get the Workbook for this article!

Workbook contains: Article, Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking Questions, Vocabulary in Context (+ answers), Multiple Choice Quiz (+ answers), Parts of Speech Quiz (+ answers), Vocabulary Game (+ answers)
Cite Article
1992 Comments
  • animebts123
    It is so pretty!!!! Will it come bye Earth if it does i want to see it!!!!!
    • alphadog
      alphadog4 months
      It looks like a skull👀
      • uni_1243
        uni_12435 months
        Wowie it looks like a skull and its name is really scary. Its like cool but also kinda scary too
        • pinklilcow
          pinklilcow8 months
          Tue first pic looks like a white face!🤔Omg!ghoooost👻Aaaaaaa
          • sami_playz
            sami_playz8 months
            the main photo looks like a skull :)
            • pilotabot683
              pilotabot6838 months
              cool that was os awsome
              • reginald_copper
                cool
                • weissci
                  weissci11 months
                  That is dangerous!!!
                  • weissci
                    weissci11 months
                    very scary
                    • ash56100
                      ash56100about 1 year
                      ahhhh im so scared