By David Highfield

PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — Rarely is there a story that captivates the world’s attention as this one has.

An asteroid, the size of an apartment building, whizzed past earth; and millions monitored the momentous occasion via the Internet on Friday afternoon.

The asteroid, dubbed Asteroid 2012 DA14, is about 150-feet wide. That’s like the size of a 13-story building.

KDKA’s David Highfield Reports:

It couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, but lots of people were watching NASA’s feed of it online where the asteroid could be seen as a white line streaking across the middle of the sky.

Its closest point to earth was at 2:24 p.m. when it was about 17,000 miles away, which is closer than most television satellites up in space.

It came closest to the Indian Ocean near Sumatra. Now though, it’s heading back into outer space.

The best viewing locations, with binoculars and telescopes, were in Asia, Australia and Eastern Europe. Even there, all anyone could see was a pinpoint of light as the asteroid buzzed by at 17,400 mph.

The chance of it actually hitting the earth was very, very small. If it had though, USA Today reports it would have been like 2.4 million tons of dynamite going off.

But as asteroids go, this one is a shrimp. The one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was six miles across. But this rock could still do immense damage if it ever struck given its 143,000-ton heft.

By comparison, NASA estimated that the meteor that exploded over Russia just hours before the asteroid event was much smaller — about 49 feet wide and 7,000 tons before it hit the atmosphere, or one-third the size of the passing asteroid.

KDKA’s Mary Robb Jackson Reports:

Scientists the world over, along with NASA, insisted the meteor had nothing to do with the asteroid since they appeared to be traveling in opposite directions.

Most of the solar system’s asteroids are situated in a belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and remain stable there for billions of years. Some occasionally pop out, though, into Earth’s neighborhood.

NASA scientists estimate that an object of this size makes a close approach like this every 40 years. The likelihood of a strike is every 1,200 years.

The flyby provides a rare learning opportunity for scientists eager to keep future asteroids at bay — and a prime-time advertisement for those anxious to step up preventive measures.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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