[NetBehaviour] "I have calculated the end of the world ... and NASA says, I'm right..."

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Thu Apr 17 11:35:41 CEST 2008

"I have calculated the end of the world ... and NASA says, I'm right..."

First the story appeared on April 4 in Germany's 'leading' tabloid ("I 
have calculated the end of the world ... and NASA says, I'm right"), 
later in more serious papers ("Nico and the end of the world") - and 
today, thanks apparently to an AFP story where the writer hadn't found 
it necessary to check anything, it has taken off around the world. Alas: 
it's absolute nonsense! The claim is that a 13-year old German schoolboy 
"discovered" - while working on an entry for a major German science 
competition - that the 2036 impact probability of asteroid Apophis is 
not 1:45,000 as the NASA calculation says but actually 100 times higher. 
Because during the 2029 approach the asteroid would hit a geostationary 
satellite and be deflected into a much more dangerous orbit. The 
newspapers also claimed that this boy not only was awarded several 
prizes for his paper but that NASA had "conceded" that he got it right 
and they were wrong. We're all doomed, right?

Well, here's what NASA's NEO guru Don Yeomans told this blog yesterday: 
"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."


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