The Distribution of Asteroids:
Advances in the discovery and characterization of
asteroids over the past decade have revealed an unanticipated underlying structure that
points to a dramatic early history of the inner Solar System. The asteroids in the main
asteroid belt have been discovered to be more compositionally diverse with size and distance
from the Sun than had previously been known. This implies substantial mixing through processes
such as planetary migration and the subsequent dynamical processes. This review is published
in Nature (DeMeo & Carry 2014, Nature, 505:629-634)
Ice variability on Charon: Improved technology, especially adaptive optics systems,
now enable the clear angular separation of Pluto and Charon from ground-based telescopes. Near-
infrared spectral data have revealed Charon’s surface to be rich in crystalline water ice and
ammonia hydrates. In this work we search for spectral differ- ences across Charon’s surface with
new near-infrared spectral data taken in the K-band (2.0-2.4 μm) with SINFONI on the VLT and NIRI
on Gemini North as well as with previously published spectral data. Focusing particularly on
the distribution of ammonia hydrate across the surface, we find that the band center and band
depth vary weakly across Charon’s surface. The strength of the absorption band of ammonia hydrate
is dependent on the state of the ice, concentration in H2O, grain size, temperature and exposure
to radiation. The spectral variation suggests that the New Horizons flyby
could find the concentration of ammonia hydrate heterogeneously distributed across the surface.
This work is in preparation.
Asteroid resurfacing mechanisms:
All airless bodies are subject to the
space environment, and spectral differences between asteroids and meteorites
suggest many asteroids become weathered on very short (<1My) timescales.
The spectra of some asteroids, particularly Q-types, indicate surfaces that
appear young and fresh, implying they have been recently been exposed. Previous
work found that Earth encounters were the dominant freshening mechanism and could
be responsible for all near-Earth object (NEO) Q-types. In this work we increase
the known NEO Q-type sample of by a factor of three. We present the orbital distributions
of 64 Q-type near-Earth asteroids, and seek to determine the dominant mechanisms for
refreshing their surfaces. Our sample reveals two important results: i) the relatively
steady fraction of Q-types with increasing semi-major axis and ii) the existence of Q-type
near-Earth asteroids with Minimum Orbit Intersection Distances (MOID) that do not have orbit
solutions that cross Earth. Both of these are evidence that Earth-crossing is not the only
scenario by which NEO Q-types are freshened. The high Earth-MOID asteroids represent 10%
of the Q-type population and all are in Amor orbits. While surface refreshing could also
be caused by Main Belt collisions or mass shedding from YORP spinup, all high Earth-MOID
Q-types have the possibility of encounters with Mars indicating Mars could be responsible
for a significant fraction of NEOs with fresh surfaces (DeMeo et al. 2014, Icarus, 227:112–122)
1. Compositional Studies of Main Belt Asteroids
Rogue asteroids in the inner belt
Very red featureless asteroids (spectroscopic D-types) are expected to have formed in the outer
solar system far from the sun. They comprise the majority of asteroids in
the Jupiter Trojan population, and are also commonly found in the outer main belt and among Hildas.
The first evidence for D-types in the inner and middle parts of the main belt was seen in the Sloan Digital
Sky Survey (SDSS). Here we report follow-up observations of SDSS D-type candidates in
the near-infrared. Based on follow up observations of 13 SDSS D-type candidates, we find a ~20% positive
confirmation rate. Known inner belt D-types range in diameter from roughly 7 to 30 kilometers.
Based on these detections we estimate there are ~100 inner belt D-types with diameters between 2.5 and 20km.
The total mass of inner belt D-types is 4x10^16kg which represents 0.01% of the mass of the inner belt.
The inner belt D-types have albedos slightly higher that typical D-types (0.1 versus 0.06) which raises the question
to whether these inner belt bodies represent only a subset of D-types, they have been altered by external factors such
as weathering processes, or if they are compositionally distinct from other D-types.
Dynamical models have yet to show how D-types originating from the outer solar system could penetrate into the inner reaches
of the Main Belt under current scenarios of planet formation and subsequent Yarkovsky drift.
(DeMeo et al. 2014, Icarus, 229:392-399)
Taxonomic classification systems of asteroid
spectra have been used for decades to group bodies with similar
surface properties. Previous systems, however, were defined in
the visible wavelength range. The past decade has seen an explosion
of research in the near-infrared due to better CCD technology and the
usefulness of this wavelength range to identify spectral absorptions
indicating key minerals on asteroid surfaces. To incorporate this wealth
of new data, I created a taxonomy of asteroids based on a few hundred
visible plus near-infrared spectra using Principal Component Analysis
(DeMeo et al. 2009, Icarus, 202:160-180)
This tool is used extensively
by the asteroid community (http://smass.mit.edu/busdemeoclass.html).
Binary asteroid formation: Binary asteroids are unique markers of
collisional history in the solar system, although it is extremely
difficult to resolve the two components. There are two proposed
scenarios for creating binary asteroids including capture of one
asteroid around another and fission of on asteroid into two components.
Asteroid (379) Huenna, because of the highly eccentric orbit of its secondary,
was a rare candidate for the capture scenario. I took one of the first
spectral measurements separating two components of a binary asteroid to
constrain formation scenarios (DeMeo et al. 2011, Icarus, 212:677-681).
Because the two asteroids had similar spectral characteristics both the
capture and the fission formation scenarios were valid.
2. Physical characteristics and sources of the near-Earth object population
Composition v. Size for NEOs: It was expected that the most common
meteorites should match the composition of the most common near-Earth
objects. However, Vernazza et al. (2008, Nature, 454:7206:858-860) found
that the most common type of NEO in the few kilometer and larger range did
not match the meteorite flux. This suggests that the sampling of large NEOs
is different from smaller ones, likely due to forces such as Yarkovsky drift
that is more effective at smaller sizes. I have undertaken a survey of the
smallest NEOs measured spectroscopically to-date using the 6.5-meter Magellan
telescope to determine whether or not sub-km NEOs are a better match to the
meteorite record (DeMeo et al., 2011, LPSC abstract, 1608:2055). By sampling
the 200-1,000 meter size range I seek to determine how the NEO population
transitions compositionally as a function of size. The three potential outcomes
include a steady transition, an abrupt change, or no change over the size range
I cover. Any outcome will provide constraints on the mechanisms for delivery to
near-Earth space particularly as a function of size. This work is in preparation.
The comet contribution to NEOs:
The lifespan of near-Earth objects (NEOs)
is much shorter than the age of the Solar System, necessitating resupply from
other source regions, particularly the main asteroid belt and the Jupiter family
comets. One outstanding question has been what is the relative contribution from
each source population. To address this, I identified comet candidates among
asteroid-like NEOs using three constraints: the Jupiter Tisserand dynamical parameter,
the surface albedo, and spectral properties
(DeMeo & Binzel 2008, Icarus, 194:436-449)
I conclude that 8 ± 5% of the total asteroid-like NEO population have the requisite
orbital properties, physical properties, and dynamical likelihood to have originated
as comets from the outer Solar System.
3. Volatiles on Kuiper Belt Objects
Compositions of small KBOs:
Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) are small bodies
residing past Neptune. Studying their surface compositions helps
to understand where these bodies originally formed, what compositional
and temperature conditions they formed in, and whether or not they were
capable of retaining the volatiles that were originally on their surface.
During my PhD I was part of a large program observing 45 KBOs spectroscopically
and photometrically in the visible and near-infrared using the 8-meter Very
Large Telescope in Chile.
I interpreted the surface composition of three outer Solar System small
bodies, (52872) Okyrhoe, (90482) Orcus, and (73480) 2002 PN34, by modeling
spectroscopic measure- ments in the visible and near-infrared wavelength ranges
(DeMeo et al. 2010, A&A, 521:A35)
The spectra reveal varying amounts of H2O ice
among these bodies, as potential surface heterogeneity. Orcus, a special
intermediate-size object that lies in a transition region for volatile retention,
is further explored in Carry et al. (2011, A&A, 534:A115). In that work we seek to
constrain the potential presence of volatiles other than water, such as methane or
ammonia. We find no evidence for other volatiles suggesting Orcus was not able to
retain volatiles over its lifetime. Additionally, I explore the photometric colors
of 23 TNOs, refining absolute magnitude values and detecting surface variation
(DeMeo et al. 2009, A&A, 493:283-290)
Constraining the presence of Ethane on Pluto and Triton:
measurements of Pluto and Triton on the 8-meter VLT, I search for ethane
on their surfaces. Pluto and Triton’s surfaces and atmospheres are rich in
methane and because ethane is an irradiation by-product of methane it is
reasonable to expect it is also present. By using radiative transfer models
I constrained the potential presence of ethane on both bodies to less than a
few percent of the surface area, though no clear detection was found.
(DeMeo et al. 2010, Icarus, 208:412-424)