NASA image of Asteroid 2005 YU55

Thousands of asteroids orbiting near Earth - NASA

A NASA survey shows that about 1,000 asteroids big enough to cause catastrophic damage if they hit Earth are orbiting nearby.

U.S. space agency NASA has completed a project known as Spaceguard, after the U.S. government ordered it to find 90 per cent of objects near Earth that are 1km in diameter or larger.

Astronomer Amy Mainzer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said 93 per cent of the objects had been accounted for.

Using NASA's recently retired Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope, scientists also found about 20,500 smaller asteroids near Earth.

Previous studies estimated there were 36,000 to 100,000 of these objects, which have a diameter of about 100 metres.

"They could still pack quite a punch," Mainzer said at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, adding that "any impact is not a very likely event."

However a major asteroid strike could and has happened.

An asteroid or comet between 5 and 10 km in diameter is believed to have smashed into Earth some 65 million years ago, triggering global climate changes that led to the extinction of dinosaurs and other animals.

"We know something that big could wipe out mostly all life on Earth," Mainzer said.

Scientists are now using archived WISE observations to home in on potentially hazardous objects whose orbits come within about 4.6 million miles of Earth.

So far, there is no plan about what to do if an asteroid was discovered to be on a collision course with Earth.

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