NASA pegs asteroid 2015 TB145’s flyby as a Halloween treat for astronomers

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Space agencies across the globe along with several research institutions are keeping a close eye on asteroid 2015 TB145’s flyby and according to NASA the event will be a Halloween treat for astronomers.

The asteroid doesn’t pose any danger to Earth or the Moon as it will zoom past both at a safe distance of 300,000 miles (480,000 kilometers); however if we speak on galactic scales, the flyby is pretty ‘close’. Scientists are treating the flyby of the estimated 1,300-foot-wide (400-meter) asteroid as a science target of opportunity, allowing instruments on “spacecraft Earth” to scan it during the close pass.

Several optical and radar observatories have already been pointed at the asteroid and because of the close approach, the 2015 TB145 has been pegged as one of the best asteroids for radar imaging that we’ll see for several years. Lance Benner, of JPL, who leads NASA’s asteroid radar research program, said that astronomers are planning to test a new capability to obtain radar images with two-meter resolution for the first time and hope to see unprecedented levels of detail.

“The asteroid’s orbit is very oblong with a high inclination to below the plane of the solar system,” said Benner. “Such a unique orbit, along with its high encounter velocity — about 35 kilometers or 22 miles per second — raises the question of whether it may be some type of comet. If so, then this would be the first time that the Goldstone radar has imaged a comet from such a close distance.”

Tracking the asteroid will involve use of 34-meter (110-foot) DSS 13 antenna at Goldstone to bounce radio waves off the asteroid. The resulting radar echoes will in turn be collected by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, and the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center’s Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico.

NASA scientists hope to obtain radar images of the asteroid as fine as about 7 feet (2 meters) per pixel. This should reveal a wealth of detail about the object’s surface features, shape, dimensions and other physical properties.

Asteroid 2015 TB145 was discovered on Oct. 10, 2015, by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS-1 (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) on Haleakala, Maui, part of the NASA-funded Near-Earth Object Observation (NEOO) Program. According to the catalog of near-Earth objects (NEOs) kept by the Minor Planet Center, this is the closest currently known approach by an object this large until asteroid 1999 AN10, at about 2,600 feet (800 meters) in size, approaches at about 1 lunar distance (238,000 miles from Earth) in August 2027.