NASA's asteroid detection system gives 5-day warning

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The thought of an asteroid hitting Earth is terrifying. Thankfully, NASA has a program to help spot potential disasters in advance.

That computer program, called Scout, proved its worth at the end of October by warning researchers of a near-Earth asteroid five days before it flew by the planet.

Five days might not seem like all that much, but previous NASA warnings were just a day in advance –– sometimes just hours in advance.

See more on asteroids:

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IN SPACE - JULY 10: This handout image provided by the European Space Agency, transmitted by the space craft Rosetta, shows the asteroid Lutetia at closest approach July 10, 2010 between Mars and Jupiter in outer space. Lutetia, about which little is known although it was discovered in 1852, is believed to be 83.3 miles (134 kilometers) in diameter. The Rosetta, which was launched in 2004, flew by Lutetia tonight at a distance of 1,900 miles (3,200 kilometers). (Photo by ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team via Getty Images)
This Dawn framing camera (FC) image of Asteroid Vesta shows Licinia crater, which is the large crater in the center of the image. Licinia has a fresh, sharp rim that is scalloped in shape. Around the side of Licinia crater there are many streaks of dark and bright material cascading towards the crater's center. This image is located in Vesta's Floronia quadrangle, in Vesta's northern hemisphere. NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on Oct. 11, 2011. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The large asteroid Vesta is shown in this image taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Astronauts and scientists are training in waters off Key Largo, Florida as part of NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) which is meant to test equipment and man's reactions for a human rendezvous with an asteroid. (Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - JULY 10: This handout photo illustration provided by the European Space Agency, transmitted by the space craft Rosetta, shows the final sequence of images before the closest approach of the asteroid Lutetia July 10, 2010 between Mars and Jupiter in outer space. Lutetia, about which little is known although it was discovered in 1852, is believed to be 83.3 miles (134 kilometers) in diameter. The Rosetta, which was launched in 2004, flew by Lutetia tonight at a distance of 1,900 miles (3,200 kilometers). (Photo by ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team via Getty Images)
NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on July 17, 2011. It was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles (15,000 kilometers) away from the protoplanet Vesta. Each pixel in the image corresponds to roughly 0.88 miles (1.4 kilometers). (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Image of the Vesta Ateroid. This Dawn framing camera (FC) image of Vesta shows linear grooves and ridges in Vesta's regolith. These linear features generally run diagonally across the image from the top left to the bottom right. They are less than 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) in width and some have lengths that extend across the entire image. This image is located in Vesta's Tuccia quadrangle, in Vesta's southern hemisphere. NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image on April 8, 2012. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
As NASA's Dawn spacecraft takes off for its next destination, this mosaic synthesizes some of the best views the spacecraft had of the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn studied Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012. The towering mountain at the south pole -- more than twice the height of Mount Everest -- is visible at the bottom of the image. The set of three craters known as the 'snowman' can be seen at the top left. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Asteroid 2015 TB145 is depicted in eight individual radar images collected on Oct. 31, 2015 between 5:55 a.m. PDT (8:55 a.m. EDT) and 6:08 a.m. PDT (9:08 a.m. EDT). (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR/NRAO/AUI/NSF)
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Plus, the more advance notice NASA has, the more work it can do with other agencies, like FEMA, to prepare for the worst.

Besides giving an arrival time, the Scout program can estimate how far away asteroids will be when they zoom by Earth.

SEE MORE: NASA Wants To Go To An Asteroid And Bring Part Of It Back

That information helps NASA know whether to freak out or not. This recent flyby wasn't cause for concern because the asteroid passed Earth with a very comfortable 310,000-mile buffer.

NASA has been spotting dangerous asteroids since 2002 with a different program, but finding smaller asteroids has been a harder problem that Scout was designed to solve.

Because they're brighter, the larger an asteroid is, the easier it is to find.

The asteroids Scout is used for aren't big enough to wipe out an entire city (but don't worry; a different NASA program spots those). Small asteroids can pack quite the punch, though.

Scout's still being tested, but it's supposed to become fully operational by the end of the year.

In the meantime, NASA has over 1,700 potentially hazardous asteroids to keep an eye on.

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