Harbinger Of Doom? Asteroid Looks Like Human Skull

Space Imagery
Thursday, 21 December 2017 - 10:41AM

You know there's no man on the moon, but have you heard that one about the skull on the asteroid?

Three years ago on Halloween, a 
 2,100-foot-wide asteroid came just within 300,000 miles of Earth-the closest an object of that size has come to Earth since 2006. Were that not spooky enough, when viewed with NASA's instruments Asteroid 2015 TB145 looked an awful lot like a human skull. Whether it was just the cosmos having some seasonal fun or transmitting a foreboding prophecy remains less clear. 

We'll get another look at TB145 next November, though, at 105 times the lunar distance. This it won't come nearly as close to Earth's surface. "Although this approach shall not be so favorable, 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," Pablo Santos-Sanz, an astrophysicist who co-authored a study about 2015 TB145's characteristics in Astronomy & Astrophysics, said in a statement earlier this week. 

The asteroid likely completes one rotation every 2.94 hours, reflecting just 5 or 6 percent of the sunlight that touches it and making it only slightly more reflective than charcoal.  It's currently 3.7 astronomical units away from Earth, 3.7 times the average difference from Earth to the Sun. Its magnitude of 26.5 makes the asteroid only visible from Earth using space telescopes.

The study's authors think that the asteroid might actually not be an asteroid at all, but an extinct comet that "lost its volatile compounds after orbiting the Sun numerous times". The difference lies wholly in their composition, as asteroids are made up of metallic material and rock, while comets are composed of rock and ice. 

 It is strange that these objects keep showing up on Halloween, though: "The next slightly more exciting encounter will be around Halloween's day in the year 2088, when the object approaches Earth to a distance of about 20 lunar distances," notes co-author Thomas G. Müller. 
Another flyby as close as the 2015 sighting isn't due until 2027, either, which means you've still got plenty of time to hug your loved ones.

Cover photo by: José Antonio Peñas/SINC: Creative Commons license here.