The Skull-Shaped "Death Comet" Will Pass by Earth Again After Halloween

Tuesday, 02 October 2018 - 12:50PM
Astronomy
Space
Earth
Tuesday, 02 October 2018 - 12:50PM
The Skull-Shaped "Death Comet" Will Pass by Earth Again After Halloween
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Image Credit: José Antonio Peñas/SINC CC BY 3.0
Everyone has something they love about Fall: the changing of the leaves, the sweater weather, or the 1,300-foot wide, skull-shaped comet that always seems to swing around Earth near Halloween. It's called the "Death Comet," and it's coming back again this year, to the delight of all who revel in the Halloween spirit (even if the comet itself passes by Earth a week or so after the holiday).

The comet's official name is 2015 TB145, though even astronomers refer to it by its ghoulish moniker. It's actually quite appropriate, considering that 2015 TB145 is a "dead comet," meaning that it's expended all the elements that normally give comets their tail (frozen water, carbon dioxide, methane, etc.). According to Vishnu Reddy, of the Planetary Science Institute:

"We found that [2015 TB145] reflects about 6 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."

Originally discovered three years ago by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS-1), the Death Comet passed dangerously close to Earth on Halloween 2015. While most asteroids and near-Earth objects (NEOs) pass within a few million miles at their closest approach, the Death Comet came within 310,000 miles of Earth. Since then, NASA and other organizations have been keeping a close eye on it.

This year, the comet will pass by Earth on November 11th at a distance of about 24 million miles. It'll be a long time before it gets close again—scientist estimate that it'll take 70 years for it to come within 5 million miles of the planet. Unless, of course, certain rituals and sacrifices are performed...

José Antonio Peñas/SINC: Creative Commons license here. (CC BY 3.0)
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