NASA challenge boy, 13, on asteroid

NASA has got caught up in an astonishing clash with a 13-year-old schoolboy over the threat of an asteroid impact, though they were reacting to some rather wild press reports rather than the lad’s own dubious maths.

Nasa impression of an asteroid strikeThe German student calculated that a 350-yard wide space rock called Apophis has a one-in-450 chance of colliding with the Earth in 2036, contradicting NASA’s own estimate that the odds are a low one-in-45,000.

Nico Marquardt based his results on the possibility that the deadly asteroid could smash into satellites orbiting the Earth, deflecting its course, as it makes a previous close pass on Friday 13th of April, 2029.

Apophis is expected to come inside the orbits of communications satellites such as those used by Sky TV. But NASA say the chance of any collision is “exceedingly remote”.

In an unprecedented statement, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said it “has not changed its current estimates for the very low probability (1 in 45,000) of an Earth impact by the asteroid Apophis in 2036.”

The space scientists added: “Contrary to recent press reports, NASA offices involved in near-Earth object research were not contacted and have had no correspondence with a young German student, who claims the Apophis impact probability is far higher than the current estimate.

“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.

“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 US-based Planetary Society has put up a $50,000 prize for whoever comes up with the best scheme to tackle the threat that Apophis poses.

Last year, scientists revealed they had discovered the type of rock that makes up Apophis – a “know your enemy” finding that could help them deal with it.

Picture: A NASA artist’s impression of an asteroid impact.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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