WASHINGTON — One of the biggest risks facing humanity right now is the fact that we don't know if a massive asteroid is on its way to kill all life on Earth.
This is because space is so big that even huge asteroids are almost impossible to spot.
But now NASA is creating the best tool for spotting an Earth-killing asteroid before it's too late to do anything about it.
Here are the details: NASA reports that it has greenlighted a plan to finish and launch its Near Earth Object Surveyor mission by the year 2026.
Surveyor will be a 6-meter-long space telescope that will use infrared imaging to boost the chances astronomers have of finding large objects that might hit Earth.
Every night, astronomers across the globe use ground-based, optical telescopes to find new near-Earth objects, or N.E.O.s, and determine whether they pose a threat to Earth or not.
But these ground-based optical telescopes are only able to look for N.E.O.s in the night sky.
Currently, there are no known NEO impact threats to Earth for the next century.
However, unknown N.E.O.s can lead to unpredicted impacts, like the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013, which went undetected because it came from the direction of the sun.
The NEO Surveyor will use infrared sensors that can help astronomers find objects approaching Earth during the day from the direction of the sun — something that can't be done from ground-based observatories.
In 2010, NASA completed its goal of discovering 90% of all near-Earth objects larger than one kilometer in width.
In 2005, the agency was directed by the U.S. Congress to find 90% of N.E.O.s larger than 140 meters in width.
To date, NASA says it has found 40% of the objects within this range.