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Spooky Skull-Shaped Asteroid Will Haunt Earth Again in 2018

Newsweek logo Newsweek 22/12/2017 Newsweek Europe

12_21_halloween_skull_asteroid © Provided by IBT Media (UK) 12_21_halloween_skull_asteroid Alas, poor 2015 TB145, which by a twist of fate immediately and irrevocably became nicknamed the "Halloween asteroid" after its skull-like form skimmed 300,000 miles away from Earth on October 31, 2015. 

That's just a little bit farther away from Earth than the distance at which the moon orbits us. But one visit wasn't enough for this space rock, which will visit our neighbourhood again next November.

The asteroid's fly by in 2015 allowed scientists to become more familiar with its infinite scientific jests, like the fact that it measures between about 2,100 feet across. That plus its orbital path makes it a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, living up to its spooky nickname.

They also tried to pin down more clues to the asteroid's life. Much of the secret to studying asteroids lies in catching its flashes of reflected light. That lets scientists estimate, for example, at what speed it is rotating as it hurtles through space—likely about once every three hours in this object's case, although some data suggest it may be more like once every five hours.

Those flashes were few and far between, however, since the surface of 2015 TB145 is painted thick with molecules that reflect only 5 or 6 percent of the light that hits it. “This means that it is very dark, only slightly more reflective than charcoal,” Pablo Santos-Sanz, an astronomer at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, told Spanish news agency SINC.

They also got a sense of the object's path, determining that it traces an oval between perilously near the sun (closer even than Mercury orbits it) and out past Jupiter. Even though 2015 marked the first time scientists spotted it, they believe it's an ancient object.

But then, just two weeks after scientists began studying it, 2015 TB145 slipped out of range of telescopes, putting an end to its gibes and gambols. The asteroid was first spotted by Pan-STARRS, a Hawaiian telescope that two years later caught scientists' first glimpse of a similar object that hailed from another solar system.

But unlike so many other skull-shaped objects, 2015 TB145 is far from dead: Scientists have also figured out that 2015 TB145 is doomed to visit Earth again next November, when it will skim past Earth at about a quarter of the distance as that to the sun.

Astronomers are now gearing up to meet it again to gain a still better sense of what's happening on this giant cosmic skull.

Slideshow: Spectacular photos from space

Blown by the wind from a massive star, this interstellar apparition has a surprisingly familiar shape. Cataloged as NGC 7635, it is also known simply as The Bubble Nebula. Although it looks delicate, the 7 light-year diameter bubble offers evidence of violent processes at work. Above and left of the Bubble's center is a hot, O-type star, several hundred thousand times more luminous and some 45 times more massive than the Sun. A fierce stellar wind and intense radiation from that star has blasted out the structure of glowing gas against denser material in a surrounding molecular cloud. The intriguing Bubble Nebula and associated cloud complex lie a mere 7,100 light-years away toward the boastful constellation Cassiopeia. This sharp, tantalizing view of the cosmic bubble is a composite of Hubble Space Telescope image data from 2016,reprocessed to present the nebula's intense narrowband emission in an approximate true color scheme. Spectacular photos from space

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