It's not quite Doomsday yet, but Nasa has spotted a new and "potentially hazardous" asteroid heading in the direction of Earth.

The asteroid known as 2013 YP139 is the first spotted by the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NeoWise) spacecraft since it came out of 'hibernation' last year.

It was found by looking for variations in an otherwise static background of stars and galaxies. But in a neat twist, it wasn't just expert labs who made the find - British amateur Peter Birtwhistle from West Berkshire contributed findings which helped locate the rock.

The rock is said to be about 650 meters in diameter - enough to cause serious harm to Earth if it ever hit us.

asteroid

Above: the red dots point out the path of the asteroid


Fortunately it's still more than 43 million kilometres away, and current projections show that it will likely miss our planet this time around. Nasa said that 2013 YP139 will pass by the Earth at about 300,000 miles - about as close as the Moon, but probably not much closer for the next century at least.

Nasa expects that NeoWise will find "hundreds" more asteroids during its active lifetime, in addition to the 34,000 it discovered between 2010 and 2011.

"We are delighted to get back to finding and characterising asteroids and comets, especially those that come into Earth’s neighborhood," said Amy Mainzer, the mission's principal investigator from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"With our infrared sensors that detect heat, we can learn about their sizes and reflectiveness."


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