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Stealthy, truck-sized asteroid zipped past Earth on Friday night

By Deborah Netburn

10:00 AM EDT, June 8, 2013

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An asteroid the size of a truck zipped past Earth on Friday night, and you probably missed it.

Asteroid 2013 LR6 is 30 feet in length, or a bit more than half the size of the space rock that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February.

It made its closest approach to our planet on Friday night at 9:42 p.m. PDT, according to a release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. At that time, the asteroid was just 65,000 miles from the Earth's surface, or about a quarter of the average distance between Earth and the moon.

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At the exact moment of the asteroid's closest approach, it was directly above the Southern Ocean, south of Tasmania.

You wouldn't have heard much about this small asteroid and its close approach ahead of time because it was only discovered on Thursday -- just one day before it passed by the planet.

It was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey based in Arizona, a NASA-funded mission charged with scanning the night skies for near-Earth objects.

Lance Benner, JPL's principal investigator for radar observations at the Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, Calif., said the powerful Goldstone array, which is often used to observe near-Earth asteroids, would not be observing asteroid 2013 LR6 because there would not be enough time to get a good look at it.

"It will go through so quickly that we aren’t going to do it with radar. There just isn’t time," he said.

In the meantime, Benner said Goldstone will continue to observe the much more massive asteroid 1998 QE2 which made its closest pass to Earth on May 31.

Asteroid QE2 is a giant space rock, an estimated 1.6 miles in length, that is traveling through space with its own 2,000-foot-long moon.

At its closest approach to Earth, 1998 QE2 was still 3.6 million miles from the planet, or about 15 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. But because of the asteroid's large size, the Goldstone array has been able to track it for more than a week -- mapping its angular features and dark blotches that may be impact craters.