NASA releases Halloween asteroid photos. What happened to skull face?

NASA has captured new high-resolution images of asteroid 2015 TB145, which zoomed past Earth on Saturday.

Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR/NRAO/AUI/NSF
Asteroid 2015 TB145 is depicted in eight individual radar images collected on Oct. 31, 2015 between 5:55 a.m. PDT (8:55 a.m. EDT) and 6:08 a.m. PDT (9:08 a.m. EDT). At the time the radar images were taken, the asteroid was between 440,000 miles and about 430,000 miles distant. Asteroid 2015 TB145 safely flew past Earth on Oct. 31, at 1 p.m. Eastern time at about 1.3 lunar distances (300,000 miles).

The asteroid that whizzed past Earth on Halloween appears to have taken off its costume. While originally captured by Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory looking a lot like a skull, NASA has captured new, high-resolution images that make the asteroid appear less menacing.

As the 2,000-foot wide space rock flew past Earth on Oct. 31 at 1 p.m. Eastern time, huge, Earth-bound radio telescopes in California and West Virginia bounced radar signals off the asteroid flying about 1.3 lunar distances (300,000 miles) away, capturing shots of asteroid 2015 TB145.

"The radar images ... reveal pronounced concavities, bright spots that might be boulders, and other complex features that could be ridges," said Lance Benner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who leads NASA's asteroid radar research program, in a statement. "The images look distinctly different from the Arecibo radar images obtained on Oct. 30 and are probably the result of seeing the asteroid from a different perspective in its three-hour rotation period."

As put it, the skull shape was likely "an optical illusion." The dead comet never posed any risk to Earth, but it is thought to be the closest approach by an asteroid expected until August 2027. Keep in mind, though, that this most recent close-call was only detected a few weeks before it zoomed by. Still, NASA says it "places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet," adding that the space agency has located about 98 percent of known Near Earth Objects.

To capture the asteroid in high-def glory, scientists used the 230-foot DSS-14 antenna at Goldstone, Calif., to beam high-power microwaves toward the asteroid. The signal bounced off the asteroid creating an echo that was then received by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s 330-foot Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The radar images created by this long-distance triangle provided a resolution clarity of 13 feet per pixel. 

According to the space agency, radar is a useful tool in its arsenal for examining an asteroid's size, shape, rotation, surface features, and surface roughness, and for getting calculations of asteroid orbits just right. 

The Halloween asteroid will swing by Earth again in September 2018, this time at a more comfortable distance of 24 million miles away.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to NASA releases Halloween asteroid photos. What happened to skull face?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today