Sneaky Asteroid Skimmed Past Earth Just Hours After Detection

Astronomers spotted an asteroid just hours before it approached Earth at just half the distance to the moon last weekend.

First spotted Saturday from the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, 2018 GE3 skimmed our planet at about 2:41 a.m. ET Sunday, April 15. The space rock sped past Earth at some 66,000 miles per hour.

The medium-sized asteroid measured between 155 feet and 330 feet across. Potentially larger than the Statue of Liberty in New York, the asteroid was up to five times the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor that struck the skies above Russia in 2013.

4_16_Asteroid Ida Asteroid Ida, a large asteroid in the Koronis family of the asteroid belt, is depicted. Unlike 2018 GE3, this asteroid was spotted many years ago, in 1884. JPL/NASA

Read more: Lyrids—how to watch one of the oldest known meteor showers

The Chelyabinsk meteor, which stretched about 65 feet in diameter, damaged some 7,200 buildings across six cities when it exploded and caused a large shockwave. Nearly 1,500 people sought medical treatment after the explosion, largely due to injuries from the broken glass of shattered windows.

Chelyabinsk was the biggest known natural object to have penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere since the mysterious Tunguska event in 1908, when a huge explosion shook the Yeniseysk Governorate in Russia. Scientists believe an exploding meteoroid caused a huge shockwave above the ground near the Stony Tunguska River in Russia that flattened some 800 square miles of forest. They estimate an asteroid or comet stretching between 200 and 620 feet was the source of the notorious blast.

4_16_Chelyabinsk Ice Russian police work near an ice hole, said by the Interior Ministry department for Chelyabinsk region to be the point of impact of a meteorite some 50 miles west of Chelyabinsk on February 15, 2013. Chelyabinsk region Interior Ministry/Handout/Reuters

Dangerous as these incidents can be, it's still incredibly rare for a meteorite to actually hit anyone. The only confimed case, National Geographic reported, occurred in 1954 when a softball-sized chunk of space rock hit Ann Hodges in her Alabama home. She sustained significant bruising but survived the extroadinary incident.

Read more: Meteorite hunter strikes gold with three pieces of space rock

In 2009, the U.K.'s Telegraph reported that 14-year-old schoolboy Gerrit Blank had been hit by a tiny, pea-sized space rock. The meteorite reportedly left a three-inch scar on his hand. Some of the claims made in the Telegraph's report, however, have been questioned by scientists.

In 2016, a meteorite impact allegedly killed a bus driver in the Vellore district of India. However, NASA later confirmed to the New York Times that the explosion was likely land-based and not from outer space.

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