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NASA’s ‘Intruder Alert’ system spots asteroid on near-collision course with Earth

A large chunk of space rock is coming dangerously close to the vicinity of the Earth, but scientists are sure it won’t collide with our planet, thanks to a new NASA tool designed to detect potentially hazardous space fly-bys.

The incoming rock was detected by the NASA-funded Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) on Maui, Hawaii, on October 26. A new early-warning system, named Scout, promptly analyzed the data on the rock and concluded that the object went in the direction of Earth, but would miss it by about 500,000km (310,000 miles).

“The NASA surveys are finding something like at least five asteroids every night,” NASA Jet Propulsion Lab astronomer Paul Chodas said

Scout is a computer program currently undergoing tests in JPL in Pasadena, California. It is constantly scanning data from telescopes worldwide, in search for so-called Near Earth Objects (NEO).

NEOs are space objects, such as rocks and comets passing by Earth. Most of them are relatively small and harmless, but those of 150 meters in diameter and bigger can potentially pose some risks to the mankind. Scout mainly deals with ‘small’ objects which are very close to the Earth.

“Objects can come close to the Earth shortly after discovery, sometimes one day, two days, even hours in some cases,” says JPL Davide Farnocchia. “The main goal of Scout is to speed up the confirmation process.”

Another system called Sentry is already online and complements Scout. Sentry’s goal is to identify the NEOs large enough to wipe out a big city, which might hit Earth in the next hundred years.

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