A large asteroid 1,300 feet in diameter will fly by our planet tomorrow at 1:01 p.m. EDT at about 79,000 m.p.h. Asteroid 2015 TB145, which was just discovered on October 10, has been christened the “Great Pumpkin Asteroid” by NASA. It will pass us at a distance of about 300,000 miles, or about 1.3 times the distance of the moon’s orbit. There will be no danger to earth; but it’s still considered close, as cosmic distances go.
Scientists are gearing up to take advantage of the close encounter to study the asteroid as it zips by. As far as we know, there will not be another one this large and this close for 12 years.
The Great Pumpkin Asteroid won’t be visible to the naked eye, but amateur astronomers with proper telescopes will be able to see it late tonight and before dawn tomorrow morning.
The gravitational force of the asteroid is so small at that distance that it will have no detectable effect on earth or the moon.
The Great Pumpkin Asteroid has a weird orbit.
The video above shows the solar system (not to scale), demonstrating the Great Pumpkin Asteroid’s strange orbit. The asteroid crosses earth’s orbit slightly before the 15 second point.
The asteroid belt forms a donut shaped cloud between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The Great Pumpkin Asteroid has a long narrow orbit that goes out almost as far as Jupiter’s orbit and then falls back to very near the sun about every three years, but it moves at a steep angle to the plane of the solar system. Because of this strange orbit, it’s possible this might be a tailless comet and not a true asteroid. Observations this weekend should tell us for sure.
The Great Pumpkin Asteroid is an NEO.
2015 TB145 was just discovered on Oct. 10. Asteroids and comets that cross earth’s orbit are called “earth crossers” or “near-earth objects” (NEO), and there are believed to be several million of them.
Since only about 13,000 NEOs have been actually detected to date, there are obviously lots of potentially dangerous ones cruising through Earth’s neighborhood unseen. Fortunately, most are relatively small. NASA believes about 95 percent of the biggest ones — those that could threaten human civilization — have been found; and none of them is a danger to us for at least the next few hundred years.
Those smaller than the Great Pumpkin Asteroid can still be dangerous.
However, because of their tremendous speed, even some of the many smaller ones could cause a great deal of death and destruction if they struck our planet. The video below is stitched together from several Russian dash-cams and other cameras. The pictures were taken February 15, 2013, while drivers watched in amazement as a small asteroid exploded high in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk Oblast with the force of 30 Nagasaki-type atomic bombs.
The “Chelyabinsk meteor,” as it is known, was only estimated to have been 65 feet in diameter — many times smaller than the one now approaching earth orbit. Yet about 1,500 people were injured seriously enough to seek medical treatment, mostly from broken glass that shattered when windows were blown in by the powerful shock wave. Around 7,200 buildings were damaged in six cities by the shock wave; but, fortunately, there were no known fatalities. It could have been far worse if it had exploded nearer the ground.
The Chelyabinsk meteor is the only meteor — or asteroid — ever confirmed to have resulted in a large number of injuries. So far.
That was the largest known natural object to have entered Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event, which destroyed a wide, remote, forested area of Siberia; and it took us completely by surprise. We had no idea it was coming. A large chunk of it was eventually recovered (above left).
Readers who watched their TVs as 21 separate fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 pounded Jupiter for a week between July 16 and 22, 1994, most of them leaving scars large enough to swallow our planet whole, will understand the danger these unguided missiles present. Fortunately, the very large ones are rare.
One of NASA’s many duties is to locate dangerous NEOs and find ways to deflect them if necessary. The dinosaurs would have appreciated their help.