Reporters gather around a piece of a meteorite that crashed in Russia (Reuters)
Reporters gather around a piece of a meteorite, which according to local authorities and scientists, was lifted from the bottom of the Chebarkul Lake, placed on display in a local museum in Chelyabinsk, on October 18. Reuters
The path of asteroid 2012 DA14's approach to earth (Reuters)
The path of asteroid 2012 DA14's approach to earth is shown in this handout graphic from NASA obtained by Reuters February 8, 2013. The 50-metre in diameter asteroid will pass inside the Earth's geosynchronous orbit, reaching its closest point February 15, 2013. Scientists say there is no danger of it hitting the earth.

The European Space Agency is to launch a new £800m telescope to provide early warnings of asteroids on collision course with Earth.

The Gaia telescope, to be launched in November, contains the most sensitive video camera yet built. It will sit 90 million miles from Earth, where it will look out for asteroids on a potential collision course.

Scientists told the Sunday Times that the telescope is powerful enough to predict asteroid impacts centuries ahead.

Astronomers have never been able to spot such asteroids because of their proximity to the sun.

Gerry Gilmore, professor of experimental philosophy at Cambridge University's Institute of Astronomy, who is a lead scientist on the project, said: "Gaia will measure all the asteroids including those between us and the sun, which are really nasty ones because we cannot see them."

In February the world was shaken when an asteroid weighing an estimated 11,000 tons exploded over central Russia and left more than 1,000 people injured and buildings damaged.

Gaia's other main task is to create the first 3D map of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

This will allow astronomers to work out the distances to our surrounding stars. Current stated distances are based on estimates.

Gilmore said: "It will follow a billion stars for five or six years, plotting their movements 80 times so that we can work out their exact tracks. We can combine those movements with those of the Earth round the sun to triangulate them - giving us the first accurate measurements across interstellar space."

Scientists will be able to build a network of 5,000 reference stars in the Milky Way plus 5,000 supernovae (exploded stars), and their relative distances.

"Once we know the exact distance and movements of stars we can calculate the weight of the whole galaxy - and work out the nature of staff we cannot see, like dark matter, which makes up about 90% of our Milky Way," Gilmore said.

He added that Gaia will also be able to tell us how long our insurance policies should be.

Click below for a YouTube compilation of eye-witness video of the Russian meteorite: