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Latest News on Apophis: 13 -year-old Boy Corrects NASA’s Estimates of Earth Impact — Not! (Update)

Annimation of Apophis.  Image Credit:  Osservatorio Astronomico Sormano
Update: It turns out this story is a fabrication and AFP didn’t check the facts with NASA as I suspected. According to the blog Cosmos4u, they talked with Don Yeomans at NASA’s NEO office and this is what Yeoman’s said about the news story of a 13-year old boy correcting NASA’s estimates of Apohpis impacting earth: “We have not corresponded with this young man and this story is absurd, a hoax or both. During its 2029 Earth close approach, Apophis will approach the Earth to about 38,900 km, well inside the geosynchronous distance at 42,240 km. However, the asteroid will cross the equatorial belt at a distance of 51,000 km – well outside the geosynchronous distance. Since the uncertainty on Apophis’ position during the Earth close approach is about 1500 km, Apophis cannot approach an Earth satellite. Apophis will not cross the moon’s orbital plane at the Moon’s orbital distance so it cannot approach the moon either.”

Also, the scientist mentioned in AFP’s story said he wasn’t conferred with either by the news agency. So don’t give any heed to this story that has been running amok around the internet.

But here’s our story on this as it originally ran: Here’s a story that supports the value of science fairs. And it also makes one wonder where else NASA’s decimal points might be off by a couple of places. One caveat on this news piece, however: as far as I know there hasn’t been an official NASA press release on this.

Reportedly, a 13-year-old German schoolboy doing research for a science competition found errors in NASA’s estimates on the chances of the asteroid Apophis colliding with Earth. The boy, Nico Marquardt used data from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam to calculate that there was a 1 in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth. NASA had previously estimated the chances at only 1 in 45,000, but according to an AFP news release, NASA now acknowledges the kid is right. (Actually, no they don’t.)

Nico took into consideration the risk of Apophis running into one or more of the 40,000 satellites orbiting Earth during its path close to the planet on April 13, 2029. Satellites in geosynchronous orbit travel at 3.07 kilometers a second (1.9 miles), at up to 35,880 kilometers above earth — and the Apophis asteroid will pass by earth at a distance of 32,500 kilometers. If the asteroid strikes a satellite in 2029, that could change its trajectory making it hit earth on its next orbit in 2036.

Still, 1 in 450 is pretty long odds. But the odds of Apophis hitting Earth seem to change like the tide. At first, in 2004 when the asteroid was first discovered, the odds were estimated at about 1 in 233. Later it went down to 1 in about 40, and even later still it went up to 1 in 7,143,000. Obviously, scientists are still refining the 2029 Apophis orbit.

Apophis is about 320 m (1150 ft) long and an estimated mass of 4.6×1010 kg.

AFP says both NASA and Marquardt agree that if the asteroid does collide with earth, the ball of iron and iridium “will crash into the Atlantic Ocean.” OK – that puts up a red flag right there on this news report. Right now, it’s fairly long odds that the asteroid will hit the Earth – how can anyone say exactly where it will hit?

The news piece goes on to say the shockwaves from the impact would create huge tsunami waves, destroying both coastlines and inland areas, “whilst creating a thick cloud of dust that would darken the skies indefinitely.” (Gotta love that “whilst” stuff.)

This is a nice story as far as a little kid correcting big NASA, but I want to see the official news from NASA on this.

Original News Source: AFP


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chuck April 17, 2008, 5:53 AM

    I agreed with the statement about checking facts when the news involves a potential risk to the population as a general rule, but to be fair, this risk isn’t really that immediate.

    2029 is still more than 20 years away, so I can’t imagine anyone reading the incorrect story would have irrationally panicked about the end of the world.

    *shrug* just my two cents I guess

  • giovanni April 17, 2008, 6:18 AM

    one think is certain a major asteroid will eventually enter in collision with planet earth whether its 2029 or a million years from then and whether it wipes out every form of life from the planet or not it wont make a wink of difference mother earth will continue revolving aroud its sun once a solar year around itself and through its cycle of the four seasons unconcerned.

  • Corvidae April 17, 2008, 6:38 AM

    lldiaz, the Xprize contests haven’t even reached orbit. They have no significant payload capacity, and no ability to escape earths gravity to reach the moon or further out.

    Nasa on the other hand is heading back to the moon just after their probe checks out Pluto on it’s way to the Oort cloud. And if things go smoothly, we’ll have another probe on Mars very soon as well.

  • Mandie April 17, 2008, 7:06 AM

    In this article it says the Earth will suffer significant damage, dust will darken the sky indefinitely, it will cause tsunamis etc. but in another article from August 22nd, 2005 it states that it would cause no damage to the Earth, only to the impact site. Is this conclusion based on information we didn’t have in 2005?

  • Philip April 17, 2008, 11:42 AM

    Well said Nuno!

  • marcellus April 17, 2008, 9:23 PM

    Skyviee, I love you man. I’m cancelling my trip to Borneo.

    No Golf Channel!!

  • Fraser Cain April 18, 2008, 9:55 AM

    Sorry Kael’thas, you can’t bubble your way out of this problem.