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The Great Pumpkin: Is a Skull-Shaped Asteroid Headed for Earth?

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It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! You might’ve seen the story going around social media: ominous news of a skull-shaped asteroid set to pass by Earth on Halloween. Some say the asteroid, nicknamed the Great Pumpkin, presents a danger of crashing into our planet. Is there any truth to the spooky story? Well, yes and no.

A dead asteroid was photographed by NASA on October 30, 2015. The image is certainly chilling. Asteroid 2015 TB 145 appeared to have the features of a human skull. Those eerie features and the fact it passed by Earth on Halloween of that year led NASA to nickname it the Great Pumpkin, while others on social media called it the “death comet.”

The Great Pumpkin: Is a Skull-Shaped Asteroid Headed for Earth?

Photo: Pixabay.com

In 2015, it passed only 300,000 miles from our planet. To put that in perspective, the moon is just 239,00 miles away. This year the asteroid’s distance has greatly increased, and it won’t be speeding past Earth until November 11, well after Halloween. NASA says it will pass some 24 million miles from us, which works out to about a quarter of the distance between the earth and sun. It’s still close enough to be classified as potentially hazardous due to its size (estimated at 2,000 feet in diameter) and closeness. NASA has continued to watch the asteroid via a powerful telescope atop a dormant volcano on the island of Maui. The space agency assures us that the asteroid won’t come close enough to collide with Earth and its trajectory is no cause for concern.

In the years since it passed so close to Earth, the Great Pumpkin’s appearance might’ve been altered. Asteroids frequently change their shape after collisions with space objects. When it made its 2015 appearance, it was close enough for observers to see with a good quality telescope. However, this year it won’t be nearly close enough to view, appearing only as a dot of light, leaving its current shape a mystery. The Great Pumpkin’s next close visit with Earth won’t come until 2088, when it will pass somewhere within 5.4 million miles from us.