A large space rock is going to come fairly close to Earth later tonight. Fortunately, it's not going to hit Earth, something astronomers are sure of thanks in part to a new tool NASA is developing for detecting potentially dangerous asteroids.
NPR reported that the tool is a computer program called Scout, and it's being tested at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The report states that Scout is constantly scanning data from telescopes to see if there are any reports of collision. If it finds one, it makes a quick calculation of whether Earth is at risk, and instructs other telescopes to make follow-up observations to see if any risk is real.
NASA pays for several telescopes around the planet to scan the skies on a nightly basis, looking for these objects. "The NASA surveys are finding something like at least five asteroids every night," says astronomer Paul Chodas of JPL.
But then the trick is to figure out which new objects might hit Earth.
"When a telescope first finds a moving object, all you know is it's just a dot, moving on the sky," says Chodas.
"You have no information about how far away it is. The more telescopes you get pointed at an object, the more data you get, and the more you're sure you are how big it is and which way it's headed. But sometimes you don't have a lot of time to make those observations.
"Objects can come close to the Earth shortly after discovery, sometimes one day, two days, even hours in some cases," says JPL's Davide Farnocchia. "The main goal of Scout is to speed up the confirmation process."