Oregon Coast Science: 'Skull' Comet Misses Earth on Halloween, Holiday Astronomy

Published 10/31/2015 at 5:55 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Oregon Coast) – A dead comet that looks like a skull and which narrowly misses Earth, and some interesting astronomy in conjunction with Halloween. All of that came across the science desk at Oregon Coast Beach Connection this week. (Above: photo courtesy NAIC-Arecibo/NSF.)

There's enough spooky Halloween coincidences from one passing space object to fill a cosmic-sized trick or treat bag. A giant object called asteroid 2015 TB145 has been nicknamed the “Halloween asteroid” because it's passing extremely close to Earth in the early hours of October 31. A frightening fact: it will pass Earth at 310,000 miles, which is closer than the moon's orbit.

It will do so quite safely, however, say NASA scientists. But the startling object – only discovered about a week ago – had some more surprises for astronomers. NASA just released the findings that it is actually a dead comet and not an asteroid at all, which means it is a comet that has lost all its ice and other substances that can create a trail when the sun heats it up.

It is only a piece of dead rock estimated at about 1,542 feet. That still makes it the largest object that will pass close to Earth until 2027.

An even more spooky coincidence: the object resembles a skull. Striking NASA images show a dead comet, that...well...looks like a skull. You can't get much more Halloween-esque than that.

While none of this will directly affect Earth or certainly the Oregon coast, it's certainly cause for a little more awe as you look up on All Hallow's Eve.

Yet another perspective on the holiday comes from Oregon: Jim Todd, of Portland's OMSI, said there is some spooky astronomy to Halloween, alongside the usual candy- and booze-fueled celebrations (depending on your age range).

Todd said Halloween began in Celtic Ireland way back in the fifth century B.C., known as “All Hallows Eve.” In those superstitious times, they believed this was a night to avoid being captured by the spirits of the dead.

However, in the realm of astronomy, it has some interesting meaning for scientists who watch the skies.

“October 31 falls almost halfway between the first days of autumn and winter,” Todd said. “That makes Halloween what's called a 'cross-quarter day' - a special seasonal day that falls halfway between two seasons, the solstice and equinox. There are four throughout the year. The others are: Feb 2nd (Groundhog's Day), May 1 (May Day), and August 1 (Lammas).”

More Oregon coast science. Below: the Oregon coast at night.







 

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