Halloween Asteroid Watch With NASA


NASA has steadily been watching the Halloween asteroid, 2015 TB145, from the Deep Space Network in Goldstone, California. On Oct. 31, at 1:05 p.m. EDT, the 1,300 foot-wide asteroid will pass the Earth. Paul Chodas, the manager of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies in Pasadena, California, says the luminous body will be traveling at a safe distance of 300,000 to 480,000 miles from Earth at its closest approach. NASA plans to use this opportunity to experiment with new, specialized instruments on “spacecraft Earth” to examine the rock as it passes.

Slooh.com, the space broadcaster, has nicknamed the asteroid, “Spooky.” Beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, Slooh will be broadcasting Spooky from its telescopic observatory in the Canary Islands. This broadcasted event will be hosted by astronomers Bob Berman and Paul Cox. Slooh may also show views from partner telescopes in Lithuania, Norway, China, and Russia. This makes it possible for people to watch the asteroid on Halloween with NASA.

The Washington Post reports that on Oct. 30, Spooky will rise at 10 p.m. in the east. It will appear as a bright light over the Orion and Taurus constellations. Two hours later, the luminous body will be one-half of one degree north of Pi 1 Orionis, in the shield. On Halloween, Oct. 31, at 2 a.m., Cox says Spooky will appear to be 1.5 degrees away from Omicron 2 Orionis. At 5 a.m., it will be in the Taurus constellation. At 6 a.m., it will be near the star Zeta Tauri, above Orion’s head, and finally, at 6:30 a.m., the asteroid will pass near the Crab Nebula.

Cox says that tracking and gathering images of Spooky when it is closest to Earth is not going to be easy. Special techniques will need to be used. The asteroid will have to be tracked in the same way the International Space Station has been for live broadcasts. The illumination of the asteroid will increase significantly as it nears Earth. It will look like a point of light rapidly moving through space when watched. Cox stated that even if it was viewed through the largest optical lens NASA had, it would still appear as a point of light. Radio telescopes are used to map the size and shape of the asteroid.

On Oct. 10, 2015, University of Hawaii’s Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS-1), located on Haleakala, Maui, discovered the asteroid. The program is part of the NASA-funded, Near-Earth Object Observation (NEOO) Program. Science is unaware of an object that has passed closer to the Earth than it is expected Spooky will, although there will be a larger asteroid that will pass by at a distance of 238,000 miles in August 2027. That asteroid’s size is double the size of Spooky at 2,600 feet, according to the catalog of near-Earth objects (NEOs). NEOs are tracked by the Minor Planet Center.

The Center for NEO Studies is the nucleus for NEO data collecting, observation, and analysis. These analysts are involved with the international group of astronomers and scientists who keep an eye on the sky. They watch for possibly hazardous asteroids or comets and predict their paths.

Spooky has only a small gravitational effect and will not have a noticeable impact on the moon, nor is it anticipated that it will influence Earth. However, according to Lance Benner, the leader of NASA’s asteroid radar research program, the scientists will be testing new equipment in an effort to acquire images with a two-meter resolution. This will be the first time this has been possible and Benner is hoping they acquire images of impressive detail.

In addition to tracking Spooky, scientists plan to bounce radio waves off the luminous body. They will be using a 110-foot, DSS 13 antenna to transmit the radio waves. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s specialized telescope in West Virginia will be collecting the echoes from the radar, as well as the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center’s Arecibo Observatory.

NASA is planning to acquire radar images at seven feet per pixel. The images should show significant detail of the rock’s surface, shape, and physical properties. Spooky has a unique, oblong orbit, and it is moving at a high velocity of 22 miles per second, according to Benner. These factors have caused scientists to question if it is an asteroid or a comet that will be speeding past Earth. However, if it is a comet, it will be the first time it will be caught on the Goldstone radar so up close.

The purpose of NASA’s NEOO program is to track, characterize, and detect any objects that come within 30 million miles of Earth. The program uses space and ground-based telescopes to find objects in space, characterize the physical features of the object, and predict the path of the object to ensure the object is not a potential hazard to the planet.

On Halloween 2015, Spooky will pass Earth at a speed of 22 mph. NASA will be making its first attempt to acquire images of the asteroid. Spooky will be 300,000 miles from Earth. The entire event can be watched on Slooh.com.

By Jeanette Smith

Windows to the Universe: The Moon’s Orbit and Rotation
NASA: NASA Spots the ‘Great Pumpkin’: Halloween Asteroid a Treat for Radar Astronomers
The Washington Post: How to Watch a Ghoulish Asteroid Narrowly Miss Earth on Halloween

Top Image Courtesy of K putt’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of NASA Marshall Space Center’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License