A scientist revealed that NASA has a last-ditch warning system for killer asteroids that are only a couple of days away from hitting Earth. The scientist explained that this acts as a back-up system in case an asteroid slips through NASA’s main trackers.

Currently, NASA has various early-detection systems in place to keep track of asteroids that could collide with Earth. For the agency, identifying an asteroid a year or more before its predicted impact date is a crucial part of Earth’s planetary defenses.

Unfortunately, the agency admitted that it can’t track all asteroids that approach the planet. This means that there’s a chance a substantially-sized asteroid could go undetected until it’s too late.

Recently, cosmochemist Dr. Natalie Starkey revealed that NASA has a special system in place to detect asteroids that are just days from impact. Dubbed as the Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), this project was developed by the University of Hawaii through the funding from NASA.

“There is even a project called ATLAS that is designed as a ‘late warning’ system, searching for those sneaky objects that could be due to impact Earth in one to three weeks,” Starkey said according to Express.

ATLAS works by providing warnings based on the approaching asteroids. For instance, for an asteroid big enough to wipe out a town, the system will give out a warning a day before impact. As for massive asteroids that could wipe out entire cities and countries, an advance warning of one or three weeks will be provided by the system.

Although these periods are too short to prepare and launch an asteroid-deflection mission, the last-minute warnings can be used to carry out mass evacuations in areas that will be affected by the asteroid impact.

According to Starkey, ATLAS would function in the same manner as the systems that predict natural disasters on Earth.

“Of course, it’s unlikely we could do much about these objects in time to divert or destroy them, but it would allow us to instead work on evacuating and preparing the forecasted target region in the same way we would for a predicted volcanic eruption,” she said.

NASA Asteroid family Mars and Jupiter
This artist concept catastrophic collisions between asteroids located in the belt between Mars and Jupiter and how they have formed families of objects on similar orbits around the sun. NASA/JPL-Caltech