YB5 was identified four weeks ago by scientists at the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking observatory on Mount Palomar, California, part of America's system for picking up large asteroids.
Is has been estimated that three or four "close encounters" with NEOs occur every month. The only known object that will pass nearer to Earth than YB5 is another asteroid, 1999 AN10, due on August 7, 2027.
"Our knowledge of these smaller NEOs is rather sketchy," said Roderick Willstrop of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University. "We don't have a system in place to spot them all."
Were a dangerous NEO to be spotted, however, fans of the Hollywood version of asteroid defense will be glad to know that the solution is straight out of the realms of fiction.
"The only way to deal with it," Willstrop said, "is to give yourself enough time and launch rockets to stage an explosion in space which will deflect the asteroid sufficiently off course to avoid us."
Copyright 2002 The Independent (London)