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Thu, Apr 17, 2008

NASA: Believe Us, Not Student, On Asteroid Collision Chances

German Teen Claims 1-In-450 Chance Apophis Will Hit Earth

Don't believe the kid. That's the somewhat-weary message NASA had this week in regards to a story spreading like wildfire over the Internet, of a German student who claims his calculations place the chances of a planet-killing asteroid collision with Earth in 2036 far higher than the space agency has reported.

The story gained traction after the German newspaper Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported Tuesday on the findings of student Nico Marquardt, who in his project for a regional science competition placed the chances of the asteroid Apophis striking Earth at one-in-450 -- far greater than NASA's statements of a 1-in-45,000 chance Apophis will hit our planet.

Apart from the potentially catastrophic undertones, of course, those claims make a great story -- "13-year-old wunderkind beats space agency at its own game." But NASA adamantly maintains its figures, not Marquardt's, are the ones to take to the bank.

"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," NASA said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown told Agence-France Presse experts at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA are certain their figures are correct, stating Near-Earth Object Program Office "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 agency also say the German newspaper inaccurately reported NASA told the European Space Agency that Marquardt's figures -- which assume Apophis will collide with an orbiting satellite in 2029, sending the asteroid's trajectory much closer to Earth than previously calculated -- were actually correct.

"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. "Therefore, consideration of this satellite collision scenario does not affect the current impact probability estimate for Apophis, which remains at 1 in 45,000."

So there. NASA hopes we all feel better.

FMI: http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov, www.jpl.nasa.gov

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