The cause of the crash of Air France flight 447 has not been determined (and likely won’t be for some time). The most likely cause is related to the turbulence in the area at the time of the crash, but other possibilities have been suggested — including, surprisingly, meteor strike. That certainly seems far-fetched as a cause, but John Conway at the Discover Magazine blog Cosmic Variance does some back-of-the-envelope calculations to check on the likelihood of a meteor striking an aircraft.

^{-13}for an average airliner. This is the probability of one aircraft being struck by one meteor. Air France 447 had planned flight time of about 11 hours, over which period 1375 meteors would be…

The cause of the crash of Air France flight 447 has not been determined (and likely won’t be for some time). The most likely cause is related to the turbulence in the area at the time of the crash, but other possibilities have been suggested — including, surprisingly, meteor strike. That certainly seems far-fetched as a cause, but John Conway at the Discover Magazine blog Cosmic Variance does some back-of-the-envelope calculations to check on the likelihood of a meteor striking an aircraft.

^{-13}for an average airliner. This is the probability of one aircraft being struck by one meteor. Air France 447 had planned flight time of about 11 hours, over which period 1375 meteors would be expected to fall. So the chance it would have been struck by a meteor during this flight (as calculated by R using the Poisson Distribution) is:

^{-9}of striking some airplane. In 20 years, that’s about 22 million independent possible impact events. The chance that every one of those meteors misses every airplane is: