ATLAS project head Dr. John Tonry with a conceptual drawing for an ATLAS telescope. The project would use two of these 20-inch telescopes. CREDIT: UH/IfA  Enlarge

After the close shave asteroid 2012 DA14 gave Earth last week and the unexpected meteor blast over Russia, it is all too be clear why some scientists have their eyes peeled for potentially dangerous space rocks. One team of astronomers at the University of Hawaii is developing an asteroid warning system to help guard against surprise impacts.

Once it is ready in 2015, the newAsteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (or ATLAS) will consist of eight small telescopes, each equipped with cameras of up to 100 megapixels in resolution. The telescopes will be on fixed mounts at one or two locations in the Hawaiian Islands.

The system is expected to offer a one-week warning for a 50-yard (45-meter) asteroid that could wipe out a whole city and three weeks for a 150-yard (137-meter) space rock capable of wiping out a whole country, scientists working on the project said.

"That's enough time to evacuate the area of people, take measures to protect buildings and other infrastructure, and be alert to a tsunami danger generated by ocean impacts," University of Hawaii astronomer John Tonry said in a statement.

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