German Geek Predicts Doomsday -- But Gets Math Wrong | From the Fringe | DW | 18.04.2008
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From the Fringe

German Geek Predicts Doomsday -- But Gets Math Wrong

When a 13-year-old German schoolboy spotted a miscalculation by US space agency NASA, he worked out that the chances of an asteroid hitting the Earth were higher than initially believed. It's just as well he was wrong.

A schoolboy writes in a copybook

Some kids think they know it all

After news of this David and Goliath tale spread around the world, NASA brought the international media back to earth with a bump on Wednesday when it issued a statement says the whiz kid was wrong.

The agency said its figures are correct when it comes to the asteroid Apophis, not the boy's.

"We stand by our numbers," NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown told AFP.

Stars in his eyes

The agency that oversees space shuttle missions and unmanned space probes made its comments after the German newspaper Potsdamer Neuester Nachrichten reported on Tuesday that supremely self-confident local teenager Nico Marquardt had calculated there was a 1 in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth.

In a project for a regional science competition, Marquardt set out to demonstrate that scientists at NASA had got it wrong when they estimated the chances of a collision at only 1 in 45,000.

He might have slipped up, but the junior astronomer certainly had some of the world's finest scientific minds worried there.

Protesting too much?

A satellite image of earth

Not Doomsday just yet

Experts at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, insist they never had any doubts about their calculations, Brown said.

The 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," Brown said in a statement.

The student's estimates were reportedly based on the asteroid hitting a satellite in 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," said the statement.

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  • Date 18.04.2008
  • Author DW staff (jp)
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  • Date 18.04.2008
  • Author DW staff (jp)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink