Nein! German schoolboy's NASA correction refuted
Apr 16, 2008 02:27 PM
Late yesterday, it seemed that a calculation in a report that a German boy submitted to a science fair was about to shame the processing power of the mighty NASA. But, alas, a new article in London's Guardian says the kid has potential, but, in this case, was, well, wrong. At issue: the asteroid Apophis, which could be on a collision course with Earth. In 2004, NASA estimated that the relatively close, 690 to 1080-foot (210-330 meter) diameter object had a 2.7 percent chance of striking our planet on April 13, 2029. Subsequent data from the Arecibo planetary radar telescope shed more light on the asteroid's trajectory and trimmed the odds of a crash on that date to zip but to "miniscule" on April 13, 2036. How miniscule? One in 45,000, according to NASA.But the German newspaper Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported yesterday that 13-year-old Nico Marquardt had used findings from a telescope at the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam to determine that NASA was way off– and that it was actually 100 times more likely than the space agency had predicted that Apophis would slam into Earth. (Here is a story from a different German newspaper called Der Tagesspiegel.) His reason: NASA scientists had not taken into account the possibility that when the asteroid approached Earth in 2029, it could strike one of 40,000 artificial satellites currently orbiting Earth. That collision could change the trajectory of Apophis, giving it a much better shot of hitting Earth seven years later if it were knocked off course enough to go through a roughly 2,000-ft (600 m) region of space known as a keyhole, where Earth's gravity would set it on a collision path. The newspaper reported that Marquardt's calculations had been accepted by both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), but both deny they signed off. "This student's conclusion reportedly is based on the possibility of a collision with an artificial satellite during the asteroid's close approach in April 2029. However, the asteroid will not pass near the main belt of geosynchronous satellites in 2029, and the chance of a collision with a satellite is exceedingly remote," NASA said in a statement released today. "Therefore, consideration of this satellite collision scenario does not affect the current impact probability estimate for Apophis, which remains at 1 in 45,000." The ESA concurred, confirming to the London Register that the boy erred.Nice try, kid.
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