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Whose Mathematics Do You Believe?

Recently, Nico Marquardt, a 13-year-old German boy, wrote a simple note to NASA. His point--to inform NASA that its mathematicians' calculations and estimate for the probability of an asteroid hitting earth were wrong.

NASA had predicted a 1-in-45,000 chance of the asteroid Apophosis hitting and destroying the earth. In his letter, Nico told NASA that the figure was "closer to one in 450." That is a big difference!

The teen's concern: He calculated the probability based on the possibility that the aesteroid "might" run into one or more of the earth's 40,000 satellites as its path brings it closest to earth on April 13, 2029. This "might" resulted in a shift of magnitude from 45,000 to 450.

SO who is right? Should we panic....either because the earth may be destroyed by an aesteroid or that a teenage boy is trying to correct the mathematics of NASA staff?

According to Donald Yeomans, Head of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, NASA's estimate is correct and has been verified. In fact, Yeomans claims: "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."

All of this sounds like the start of a potential science-fiction movie....

Source: Adapted from a Gizmodo.com blog (April 16 2008)