NASA’s Studies on Killer Asteroids May Be Riddled with Statistical Errors

'WISE observatory'

Artist’s impression of NASA’s asteroid-hunting telescope WISE.

BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Nathan Myhrvold a former CTO at Microsoft and amateur asteroid hunter claims he has revised the data on killer asteroids submitted by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), and found that asteroids’ sizes have been largely miscalculated.

In a research paper to be published soon in the journal Icarus, the billionaire technologist says that NASA has miscalculated the sizes of more than 157,000 asteroids. He added in a recent interview, that none of the results of the NEOWISE mission can be replicated.

He focused on a 2011 study published by the NEOWISE team which claimed that they can assess the size of an asteroid with higher accuracy than 10 percent. The tech billionaire said that NASA scientists didn’t take into consideration the margin errors when they applied the analysis of a few asteroids to larger populations.

NASA scientists also ignored Kirchhoff’s law of thermal radiation when they build their thermal computer models, the critic says. While the his own models suggest that statistical errors should not be more than 30 percent, Myhrvold found margins of errors of 300 percent in NEOWISE team’s scientific papers.

NEOWISE scientists dismissed the criticism. Ned Wright, lead scientist at WISE, said he found a plethora of mistakes in Myhrvold’s 110-page paper. Wright argued that the mission’s data was confirmed by two other infrared observatories and WISE statistical errors should not be larger than 15 percent. Wright also resorted to a personal attack saying that Myhrvold himself “is responsible in part for a lot of bad software” as a former Microsoft engineer.

Amy Mainzer, a NEOWISE investigator, noted that her work’s critic took diameter for radius in his paper. She added that her team has analyzed the research paper in recent months and submitted errors to the author.

Mainzer noted that Myhrvold’s study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet.

Myhrvold replied that the errors are purely ‘cosmetic’ and doesn’t alter his conclusions. He said that NEOWISE investigators are not going to admit they were wrong because many of them are already seeking funds for a new asteroid-hunting observatory called NEOCam.

“They’re up for this NEOCam thing and they’re afraid it looks bad. And it does look bad,”

he said

The amateur asteroid hunter has found errors in other scientific papers over the years. In 2013, he criticized the method of calculating dinosaur growth rates. He has been studying asteroids and dinosaurs for more than three decades now.

Image Source: Wikimedia