An amazing new video posted to YouTube this week purports to show a meteorite hurtling dangerously close to a skydiver in Norway.
The astounding improbability of this close encounter warrants skepticism, but if the video is a hoax, it's a pretty good one, said Bill Cooke, NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
"If you work out the mathematics, the odds of a 1-kilogram- rock (2.2 lbs.) passing within some 30 feet (9.1 meters) of a person on Earth's surface within 10 minutes is about 1 in 500 billion," Cooke told Space.com. [Photos: Rare Meteorite Found in Minnesota]
"You have a 1,000 times greater chance of winning the Powerball lottery," Cooke said.
The skydiver, Anders Helstrup, was wearing a wingsuit and a camera-equipped helmet when he dropped from a small airplane in 2012 near the town of Rena, about a two hours' drive north of Oslo. After watching the video footage from the jump, Helstrup saw that a lumpy, gray rock whizzed right in front of him, missing him only by a few feet, Norwegian broadcaster NRK reported.
"At first it crossed my mind that it had been packed into a parachute, but it’s simply too big for that," Helstrup told NRK. "The film caused a sensation in the meteorite community. They seemed convinced that this was a meteorite, perhaps I was the one who was the most skeptical."
Cooke stopped short of debunking the video, because, he said, "It certainly looks like a rock falling." While meteorites do burn and break up when they crash through Earth's atmosphere, they're actually very cold by the time they hit ground, Cooke said, making the rock's dull appearance scientifically sound.
"It's just the sheer improbability of it that gets me," Cooke said, though he admitted, "The improbable does occur from time to time."
An Alabama woman named Elizabeth Hodges was the first person in modern times to be directly injured by an extraterrestrial object. In 1954, a grapefruit-sized meteorite crashed down through Hodges' roof, bounced off her radio and struck her on the hip, leaving her badly bruised. In 2009, a German schoolboy claimed to have been hit by a tiny meteorite fragment that left him with a scar on his hand. Meteor blasts also have caused indirect injuries. On Feb. 2013, more than a thousand people were hurt when a fireball exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, creating a sonic boom that blew out windows and damaged hundreds of buildings.
So far, no one has found a meteorite on the ground that could be linked to the incident in Norway. Multiple searches for the space rock in the marshes and scrub around Rena have not yet turned up any clues, NRK reported.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. EDT on April 7 to clarify the history of meteorite injuries.