New Delhi: The US Congress has been told to `pray` by NASA in case a large asteroid comes hurtling towards Earth.
NASA chief Charles Bolden was asked by lawmakers at a US House of Representatives Science Committee hearing Tuesday about its options for dealing with the threats posed by unknown asteroids and comets.
The hearing came in response to the Feb 15 meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, as well as a close encounter with a much bigger asteroid known as 2012 DA14 later that day.
"We were fortunate that the events of last month were simply an interesting coincidence rather than a catastrophe," said Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican.
NASA has found and is tracking about 95 percent of the largest objects flying near Earth, those that are .62 miles or larger in diameter.
"An asteroid of that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization," White House science advisor John Holdren told legislators at the same hearing.
But only about 10 percent of an estimated 10,000 potential "city-killer" asteroids, those with a diameter of about 165 feet have been found, Holdren added.
On average, objects of that size are estimated to hit Earth about once every 1,000 years.
"From the information we have, we don`t know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States," Bolden said. "But if it`s coming in three weeks, pray."
In addition to stepping up its monitoring efforts and building international partnerships, NASA is looking at developing technologies to divert an object that may be on a collision course with Earth.
"The odds of a near-Earth object strike causing massive casualties and destruction of infrastructure are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large it makes sense to takes the risk seriously," Holdren said.
About 66 million years ago, an object 6 miles in diameter is believed to have smashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, leading to the demise of the dinosaurs, as well as most plant and animal life on Earth.
The asteroid that exploded over Russia last month was the largest object to hit Earth`s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event when an asteroid or comet exploded over Siberia, leveling 80 million trees over more than 830 square miles (2,150 sq km).
(With Agency inputs)