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NASA Doesn’t Know

from The New York Times

How Big Are Those Killer Asteroids? A Critic Says NASA Doesn’t Know.


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More than 14,000 known asteroids zip through Earth’s neighborhood. They will all miss Earth in the coming decades.

But hundreds of thousands more have not yet been discovered, and whether any of those are on course to slam into our planet, no one knows. So finding and tracking all the asteroids that could cross Earth’s path would allow officials to issue warnings and potentially provide time to deflect dangerous ones.

The community of scientists contemplating such doomsday possibilities is small and usually cordial — at least until Nathan P. Myhrvold barged in. Once the chief technologist at Microsoft, Dr. Myhrvold moved on to other endeavors like a six-volume, 2,438-page compendium of cooking knowledge that has been celebrated by chefs. (A sequel, about baking, is in the works.)

He has also become a statistics scold of scientists.

His latest target is NASA, in a squabble over data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft.

WISE, launched in 2009, snapped images of three-quarters of a billion stars, galaxies and other celestial objects, including the heat emissions of asteroids.

An offshoot called Neowise used the heat data to calculate the size and reflectivity of 158,000 asteroids.

Dr. Myhrvold contends that the Neowise analysis is deeply flawed. “The bad news is it’s all basically wrong,” he said. “Unfortunately for a lot of it, it’s never going to be as accurate as they had hoped.”

He submitted his own analysis of the Neowise results to the journal Icarus.

[ click to continue reading at NYT ]

Posted on May 31, 2016 by Editor

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