It’s Halloween: the special day of the year reserved for scary stories, hidden identities, and candy binges. While most of these eerie festivities take place here on Earth, extraterrestrial trick-or-treaters have occasionally swung by our planet to partake in the holiday fun.
Take, for instance, the amazing skull-shaped asteroid that just happened to zoom by Earth on Halloween in 2015. Known officially as 2015 TB145, the asteroid has since earned the nicknames “the Great Pumpkin” and “the Halloween Asteroid” because of its eerie resemblance to a human skull, which is, of course, an enduring symbol of Halloween.
The asteroid was discovered by Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) just a few weeks before Halloween that year, but its skeletal appearance was first revealed in radar observations captured on October 30 by the Arecibo Observatory, a premiere radio telescope that has sadly since collapsed.
The rock is less than a half-mile wide and passed about 300,000 miles from Earth, which is just a little beyond the orbit of the Moon. It does not pose any threat to our planet in terms of a potential impact, though its ghoulish shape may have given some skywatchers the creeps.
The asteroid is just one of many outer space phenomena that have stoked the Halloween spirit over the years. This year, NASA shared an image of the Sun that makes our star look like a giant Jack O’Lantern that runs on nuclear fusion, and there is no lack of zombie stars, ghostly nebulas, and cannibal galaxies out there in space for anyone interested in an off-Earth dimension to the scary season.