At least four “potentially hazardous” asteroids made close approaches to Earth on Tuesday. The rocks were only discovered hours before they shot past the Earth and Moon. Asteroid 2019 SM8 was seen by astronomers at the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona on Monday night.
It flew by Earth hours later on Tuesday, NASA confirmed.
The closest it got to Earth was approximately 99,000 miles (159,000 kilometers) – a distances which is around half the average length between Earth and the Moon.
According to Space.com, NASA found another new asteroid that also made a close approach to Earth just an hour later.
Asteroid 2019 SE8 was further away at around 674,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers).
Asteroid 2019 SD8 and 2018 FK5 were also seen at the US centre.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has warned the chances of an impact are more than people realise.
The former Republican congressman has said: “We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about the movies.
“This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know, right now, to host life – and that is the planet Earth.”
His company have won a contract to build components for NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) which will attempt to redirect and deflect asteroids before they can hit Earth.
NASA’s website has written: “No known asteroid poses a significant risk of impact with Earth over the next 100 years.”
Lindley Johnson of the Planetary Defence Coordination Office added: “While no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a significant chance of hitting Earth for the next 100 years, NASA and its partners are studying several different methodologies for deflecting a hazardous asteroid.”
DART will attempt to smash into Didymoon, the smaller of the twin Didymos asteroids.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Hera will then map the impact crater and calculate the weight.
The data from this will allow NASA and ESA to determine if it is indeed possible to deflect asteroids.
An asteroid collision is now accepted by scientists to be responsible for a mass extinction event 66 million years ago.
An asteroid of between six and nine miles in size wiped out three-quarters of plant and animal species on our planet.