NASA has released close up pictures of the Halloween asteroid that flew harmlessly past Earth on Halloween night. In earlier images, the asteroid appeared to resemble a skull but the new, high-resolution images show no such pattern.
In order to capture images of the asteroid, astronomers shot microwaves at it using the Goldstone antenna and collected the microwaves that bounced off it with the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia. These images are much different than ones captured days earlier by the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico.
The asteroid, known as 2015 TB145, is about 2000 feet wide. It passed within about 300,000 miles from Earth, a little bit farther than the distance of the moon. Asteroid flybys this close to Earth only happen every few years. The next time an asteroid passes this close to Earth won’t occur until 2027, unless of course we are surprised by the discovery a new asteroid.
Features as small as 13 feet can be resolved in the image, which is pretty impressive considering the asteroid is only 2000 feet wide, about the length of 6 football fields, and was farther away than the moon when the images were taken.
“The radar images of asteroid 2015 TB145 show portions of the surface not seen previously and reveal pronounced concavities, bright spots that might be boulders and other complex features that could be ridges,” said Lance Benner who is the head of NASA asteroid research program.
According to Benner, we are seeing the asteroid at different angles in these new pictures. At the right angle, an optical illusion makes it seem like there is face in the asteroid when there really isn’t. It illusion was also due, in part because humans can easily pick faces out of inanimate objects. This phenomenon is known as pareidolia.
A famous example of this is the “face on Mars,” a rock formation that looks very much like a human face but in different lighting looks like nothing more than an ordinary mountain.