Skull-Faced ‘Dead’ Comet Hurtling Past Earth on Halloween

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Asteroid 2015 TB145 appears to be a "dead comet" that also sports a skull face. It is passing close to Earth on Halloween. NAIC-Arecibo/NSF

It’s Halloween, and one asteroid is putting on a show for the occasion...and coming quite close to our planet. 

A space rock that astronomers have named Asteroid 2015 TB145 is hurtling past Earth on Saturday, sporting a spooky skull face.

It “appears to have donned a skull costume for its Halloween flyby," said Kelly Fast, a scientist at NASA and acting program manager for the U.S. space agency's Near-Earth Object Observations Program, in a statement.

Images acquired by Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, have helped astronomers determine that it is likely a “dead comet,” meaning one whose volatile chemicals have burned up. Comets still containing such chemicals often vent them when close to the sun, creating a “tail.”

Luckily, the asteroid will not hit Earth. It is passing by at about 302,000 miles above our planet, or about 1.3 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The space rock is roughly spherical and about 2,000 meters in diameter. 

The comet is rather dark, reflecting “about six percent of the light it receives from the sun," said Vishnu Reddy, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arzona. But “dark” is a relative term: Its hue “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,” Reddy said.