A British teenager has been on the blower to Nasa scientists to point out an error in a set of their own data.
Miles Soloman in Sheffield found that radiation sensors on the International Space Station (ISS) were recording false data. The correction was said to be “appreciated” by Nasa, which invited him to help analyse the problem.
“What we got given was a lot of spreadsheets, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds,” Soloman told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.
The research was part of the TimPix project from the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), which gives students across the UK the chance to work on data from the space station, looking for anomalies and patterns that might lead to further discoveries.
During UK astronaut Tim Peake’s stay on the station, detectors began recording the radiation levels on the ISS.
“I went straight to the bottom of the list and I went for the lowest bits of energy there were,” Miles explained.
Miles’s teacher and head of physics, James O’Neill, said: “We were all discussing the data but he just suddenly perked up in one of the sessions and went ‘why does it say there’s -1 energy here?'”
What Miles had noticed was that when nothing hit the detector, a negative reading was recorded. Since you cannot get negative energy. So Soloman and O’Neill contacted Nasa.
It turned out that Miles had noticed something no-one else had – including Nasa.
Nasa said it was aware of the error, but believed it was only happening once or twice a year but Solomon noticed it was happening several times a day.