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Animation showing asteroid 2015 TB145—the small white dot that is moving. (credit: Pan-STARRS)

A large near-Earth asteroid named 2015 TB145, discovered on October 10 by the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy’s Pan-STARRS1 Telescope atop Haleakala, Maui, will pass close to Earth on October 31. The asteroid has a diameter of approximately 1,300 feet, and will pass within approximately 300,000 miles of Earth. There is no possibility of this object impacting Earth.

The asteroid is already being studied by telescopes across the planet and soon will be targeted by radar observations that will look for details as small as 6.5 feet on its surface. The radar observations will directly measure its size and shape, and determine whether the object has any satellites.

When it comes closer to Earth, it will brighten to approximately 10th magnitude, which means that amateur astronomers with small telescopes should be able to see it as it moves quickly across the sky.

The asteroid has an unusual orbit that is highly inclined relative to the ecliptic plane that contains the Earth, sun, other major planets and most asteroids. The orbit is also highly elliptical, which means that after passing Earth, the asteroid will go closer to the sun than to Mercury before going back out to the outer part of its orbit, where it spends most of its time, about four times as far from the sun as Earth is. The unusual orbit of this object made it difficult to discover—the last time that it came close to Earth was approximately 30 years ago.

The search for near-Earth objects by the Pan-STARRS telescopes is funded by the NASA Near Earth Object Observations program.

—By Louise Good

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