NASA's asteroid-hunting spacecraft on Tuesday released a treasure trove of survey data, revealing hundreds of Near-Earth objects (NEOs) of which 72 are newly detected and eight are classified as potentially-hazardous.
The space agency said eight of the 72 NEOs detected in recent years were classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHA) based on their size and how close their orbits approached our planet.
Since December 2013, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (Neowise) mission has identified 439 NEOs — asteroids or comets that at some point orbited the Sun and became close to the Earth.
With the release of this fresh batch of data, Neowise has completed another milestone in its mission to detect, track and classify the comets and asteroids that approach the planet.
Incidentally, an asteroid is considered an NEO when its distance from the Sun during its closest approach is less than 1.3 times the average Sun-Earth distance, experts said.
Scientists also use Neowise data to better understand the origins of these space objects, which are possibly either from the different parts of the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars or the icier comet populations.
History of Neowise
First launched in December 2009, Neowise was originally just called Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). It was placed in hibernation in 2011 after its main mission was done.
In September 2013, WISE was reactivated into Neowise and given a new mission: to distinguish populations of potentially-dangerous NEOs.
Neowise principal investigator Amy Mainzer said the spacecraft discovers large and dark NEOs, helping scientists by complementing the network of ground-based telescopes that operate at visible-light wavelengths.
"On average, these objects are many hundreds of meters across," said Mainzer.
Will NEOs Hit Earth?
NASA scientists said no NEOs are likely to hit the planet anytime soon.
Still, space rocks can remain undetected, such as the Chelyabinsk meteor that streaked across Russian skies on Feb. 15, 2013.
The meteor exploded, shattering glass windows and injuring more than 1,100 residents. Experts say this meteor was the result of a collision between two astronomical bodies.
What's more, fragments of the meteor revealed that the collision did not happen days or months before it hit Earth, but about 290 million years ago.
Meanwhile, NASA unveiled an asteroid detection program in early January which would help defend the planet in case any dangerous asteroids are lurking around Earth.