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The influence of the correlations between an asteroid’s orbital parameters on the estimation of the probability of planetary collision by the Monte Carlo method

Authors: N. B. Zheleznov

Journal: 44(2), 136-143

Year: 2010

The probability of an asteroid colliding with a planet can be estimated by the Monte Carlo method, in particular, through the statistical simulation of the possible initial conditions for the motion of an asteroid based on the probability density distribution set by the respective covariance matrix to be further projected with the orbital model onto the supposed time point of the collision. Hence, the collision probability is calculated as the ratio between the number of projected (virtual) asteroids striking the planet and their total number. The main problem is that different elements of the initial conditions (orbit or state vector) are correlated and, therefore, cannot be simulated independently. These correlations are reflected in the nondiagonal covariance matrix of the solution. The matrix is diagonalized by an orthogonal transformation. In the uncertainty domain constructed from the diagonal matrix elements, the initial values for each of the six orbital elements are simulated independently from the other elements, but with the accounting for their normal distribution. The program for calculating the normal distribution is based on the central limit theorem. Each sample of the initial values for the six orbital elements is transferred to the initial reference frame using an inverse transformation. Then, numerical integration is used to track the asteroid’s motion along the respective orbit to predict a possible impact event. Asteroids 99942 Apophis and 2007 WD5 are used as examples to show that disregarding the correlations when diagonalizing the covariance matrix to set the initial conditions may seriously distort the collision probability estimates. The paper gives the probabilities of the collisions of Apophis with the Earth and asteroid 2007 WD5 with Mars calculated by the author from observation sets showing nonzero collision probabilities. The author’s estimates are compared to those calculated by NASA.