Halloween asteroid that raced by Earth looks eerily like a skull

This image of asteroid 2015 TB145, a dead comet, was generated using radar data collected by the National Science Foundation's 1,000-foot (305-meter) Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The radar image was taken on Oct. 30, 2015, and the image resolution is 25 feet (7.5 meters) per pixel.

NAIC-Arecibo/NSF

It's a fittingly creepy end to a surprisingly spooky story from space.

Last month, astronomers spotted 2015 TB145, a so-called near-Earth object (NEO) that experts projected would make a close flyby of planet Earth on Halloween, Oct. 31. As it approached and experts got a better view, it appeared that the space rock, which has come to be known as the Halloween asteroid, "Spooky" or "The Great Pumpkin," was most likely a "dead" comet.

And it gets better: It looked remarkably like a skull.

"The IRTF (Infrared Telescope Facility) data may indicate that the object might be a dead comet, but in the Arecibo images it appears to have donned a skull costume for its Halloween flyby," Kelly Fast, IRTF program scientist at NASA Headquarters and acting program manager for NASA's NEO Observations Program, said in a statement over the weekend.

halloween-skull-asteroid20151030-large-promo.gif

This animated GIF was generated using radar data collected by the National Science Foundation's 1,000-foot (305-meter) Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The six radar images used in the animation were taken on Oct. 30, 2015, and the image resolution is 25 feet (7.5 meters) per pixel.

NAIC-Arecibo/NSF

The first radar images of the spooky space rock, from the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, taken on Oct. 30, 2015, determined that it is about 2,000 feet across, roughly spherical and takes about five hours to complete a full rotation.

The coma-less zombie comet was expected to pass by at a distance of about 302,000 miles, or just under 1.3 times the distance from here to the moon, which is close in NEO terms, but posed no risk to anyone on Earth. The next time TB145 comes around will be in September 2018, when it will make a distant pass at about 24 million miles, or about a quarter the distance between Earth and the sun.

  • Amanda Schupak

    Amanda Schupak is the science and technology editor at CBSNews.com