The video at the top of this page, and the first two images below, are the latest radar releases showing 2015 TB145, which swept within 1.3 lunar distances of Earth on October 31, 2015, Halloween in North America. The object passed Earth at a distance of about 302,000 miles (486,000 km). As it passed, it was found to be spherical in shape and approximately 2,000 feet (600 meters) in diameter. It completes a rotation about once every five hours. Observations made last week by scientists using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii indicated the object was a comet, an icy body that had likely shed its volatiles after numerous passes around the sun. Meanwhile, in a statement from yesterday (November 3, 2015), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory continued to refer to the object as an asteroid.
We had a lot of questions about the image of 2015 TB145 just below, which appears to show the object in the shape of a skull. As you can see from these more recent images, 2015 TB145 isn’t as skull-like as that earlier image suggested. The skull appearance of the object was a case of what’s called pareidolia, that is, seeing a familiar pattern of something that isn’t really there. It’s similar to a photo by Peter Lowenstein featured yesterday in our Today’s Image area, showing a cloud that looks like a barking dog. You can see many more examples of pareidolia on this page.
The images below are also 2015 TB145, acquired by both professional and amateur astronomers late last week as the object swept past Earth.
— Arecibo Observatory (@NAICobservatory) October 30, 2015
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.