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 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
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
When AI and optoelectronics meet: Researchers take control of light properties
20.11.2018 | Institut national de la recherche scientifique - INRS
How to melt gold at room temperature
20.11.2018 | Chalmers University of Technology
Max Planck researchers revel the nano-structure of molecular trains and the reason for smooth transport in cellular antennas.
Moving around, sensing the extracellular environment, and signaling to other cells are important for a cell to function properly. Responsible for those tasks...
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
19.11.2018 | Event News
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
20.11.2018 | Life Sciences
20.11.2018 | Life Sciences
20.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy