Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study Puts Solar Spin on Asteroids, their Moons & Earth Impacts

10.07.2008
Asteroids with moons, which scientists call binary asteroids, are common in the solar system. A longstanding question has been how the majority of such moons are formed. In this week’s issue of the journal Nature, a trio of astronomers from Maryland and France say the surprising answer is sunlight, which can increase or decrease the spin rate of an asteroid.

Derek Richardson, of the University of Maryland, his former student Kevin Walsh, now Poincaré Fellow in the Planetology Group in the Cassiopée Laboratory of CNRS at the Cote d'Azur Observatory, France, and that group’s leader, co-author Patrick Michel outline a model showing that when solar energy “spins up” a “rubble pile” asteroid to a sufficiently fast rate, material is slung off from around the asteroid’s equator. This process also exposes fresh material at the poles of the asteroid.

If the spun off bits of asteroid rubble shed sufficient excess motion through collisions with each other, then the material coalesces into a satellite that continues to orbit its parent.

Because the team’s model closely matches observations from binary asteroids, it neatly fills in missing pieces to a solar system puzzle. And, it could have much more down-to-earth implications as well. The model gives information on the shapes and structure of near-Earth binary asteroids that could be vital should such a pair need to be deflected away from a collision course with Earth.

Finally, the authors say, these findings suggest that a sample return mission to such a binary asteroid could bring back exposed pristine material from the poles of the parent asteroid, providing a chance to probe the internal composition of an asteroid without having to dig into it.

Solar Spin Power
It’s estimated that about 15 per cent of near-Earth and main-belt asteroids with diameters less than 10 kilometers have satellites. Scientists have determined that these small binary asteroid pairs were not formed at the beginning of the solar system, indicating that some process still at work must have created them.

“It was at first thought the moons in these asteroid pairs probably formed through collisions and/or close encounters with planets,” said Richardson, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland. “However, it was found that these mechanisms could not account for the large number of binary asteroids present among near-Earth and inner main belt asteroids.”

Recent studies have outlined a thermal process – known as the YORP effect after the scientists (Yarkovsky, O’Keefe, Radzievskii, Paddack) who identified it – by which sunlight can speed up or slow down an asteroid’s spin. Widespread evidence of this mechanism can be seen in the “notable abundance of both fast and slow rotators among [near-Earth asteroids] and small main belt asteroids,” Walsh, Richardson and Michel write in the Nature paper.

The trio modeled different types of 'rubble pile' asteroids -- chunks of rock held together by gravity. This work, supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA, as well as the European Space Agency and the French National Planetology Program, is the first to show how the slow spinup of such asteroids leads over millions of years to mass loss that can form binaries.

“Our model almost exactly matches the observations of our test case, binary asteroid KW4, which was imaged incredibly well by the NSF-supported Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico,” Walsh said.

Asteroid Deep Impacts
“Based on our findings, the YORP effect appears to be the key to the origin of a large fraction of observed binaries,” said Michel. “The implications are that binary asteroids are preferentially formed from aggregate objects [rubble piles], which agrees with the idea that such asteroids are quite porous. The porous nature of these asteroids has strong implications for defensive strategies if faced with an impact risk to Earth from such objects, because the energy required to deflect an asteroid depends sensitively on its internal structure,” he said.

Doublet craters formed by the nearly simultaneous impact of objects of comparable size can be found in a number of places on Earth, suggesting that binary asteroids have hit our planet in the past. Similar doublet craters also can be found on other planets.

The authors say that their current findings also suggest that a space mission to a binary asteroid could bring back material that might shed new light on the solar system’s early history. The oldest material in an asteroid should lie underneath its surface, explained Richardson, and the process of spinning off this surface material from the primary asteroid body to form its moon, or secondary body, should uncover the deeper older material.

“Thus a mission to collect and return a sample from the primary body of such a binary asteroid could give us information about the older, more pristine material inside an asteroid, just as the University of Maryland-led Deep Impact gave us information about the more pristine material inside a comet,” Richardson said.

Michel added, “Bringing back pristine material is the goal of our proposed Marco Polo mission, which is currently under study by the European Space Agency, in partnership with JAXA in Japan.”

Lee Tune | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.umd.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Tune your radio: galaxies sing while forming stars
21.02.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms
17.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed

21.02.2017 | Earth Sciences

Novel breast tomosynthesis technique reduces screening recall rate

21.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Use your Voice – and Smart Homes will “LISTEN”

21.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>