US researchers find a large asteroid held together by forces other than gravity
Saturday, August 16, 2014
A team of researchers from the Knoxville, has confirmed that is primarily held together by rather than gravity. They have shown that the of the 1.1 km asteroid is higher than could be possible if only and were responsible for holding it together. prevent large scale of material and breakup of the asteroid. Their study was published Wednesday in .,
The researchers found that the bulk1.7±0.7 g/cm³ of the is approximately two times lower than the value required for to balance out the caused by rotation. As Ben Rozitis, a and a co-author of the study, told : "I was expecting to find a high-density metallic asteroid, as such an asteroid wouldn't require cohesive forces to hold itself together under its fast rotation. Instead we found the opposite! [...] We knew from previous work that this asteroid was rotating faster than it should be, and we wanted to know why".
Spectral observations of 1950DA indicated that it is either anor asteroid in the . However, its low and low ratio (a very smooth surface at centimetre to decimetre scales) showed that it cannot be an E-type asteroid.
Unusually for an(which are mostly ), 1950DA has low . It would have been puzzling, if it was not for the observations of 21 Lutetia, which is also an with very similar low . Researchers have used for 1950DA the same meteorite analogue which was earlier found to fit best 21 Lutetia: with grain density of 3.55 g/cm³. It allowed to calculate macro-porosity of 51±19%, indicating that 1950DA is a rubble-pile asteroid.
Taking into accountmeasurements of , presence of a fine-grained is implied, primarily around 1950DA's . Negative near the equator of the asteroid (48±24% of its surface) requires existence of to prevent loss of material. This is similar to an effect noticed between the fine of on the . Lunar regolith was found to be highly cohesive because of van der Waals forces between grains by the expedition in .
As Ben Rozitis explained: "We found a low-density rubble pile that traditionally would be unable to hold itself together unless cohesive forces were present. It's exciting because we've provided the first evidence that cohesive forces are important for small asteroids, which had only been predicted up until now."
The balance betweenand requires small grain sizes consistent with the grain size distribution on 1950DA, and similar to that of another rubble-pile asteroid, . Unlike Itokawa, 1950DA does not have large s on the surface; they may have been lost as 1950DA's rotation accelerated due to . This effect results in a change of the rotation rate of an asteroid (either faster or slower), and is caused when the heats up an object unevenly, due to asymmetric surface . As the heat escapes, the rotation rate is slowly changed due to an uneven rate of cooling. The researchers find that a rubble-pile asteroid may have a high rotation rate, if it is held together by cohesive forces between the grains. But as the spin rate increases due to YORP effect, the centrifugal force may cause the rubble pile to eventually separate as it happened with .
The findings may have implications for. A very small impulse may break one into several pieces. As Ben Rozitis said: "You'd want to avoid interacting with the asteroid directly. An alternative is to use a 'gravity tractor,' or a heavy spacecraft placed near the asteroid, which uses the force of gravity to pull the asteroid off course". Bong Wie, an at in , noted: "I just hope that an asteroid on a collision course with Earth will not be spinning rapidly and it will not be a rubble-pile asteroid".
According to Daniel Scheeres, anat the , , understanding such cohesive forces may also be important for future . Ben Rozitis clarified: "Mining missions intend to visit small asteroids about 10 meters (33 feet) or less in size, as it is thought that they are predominantly solid bodies. However, cohesive forces enable such small asteroids to be rubble piles instead. A small rubble-pile asteroid would be harder to interact with and collect, as it can easily deform or break up when subject to external forces."
The study was supported by, and the .
- "Gecko sticking forces hold rubble-pile asteroids together" — , August 14, 2014
- Charles Q. Choi. "Potentially Dangerous Asteroid Is Actually a Pile of Rubble" — , August 13, 2014
- Ben Rozitis, Eric MacLennan & Joshua P. Emery. "Cohesive forces prevent the rotational breakup of rubble-pile asteroid (29075) 1950DA" — , August 13, 2014
- Alexandra Witze. "Near-Earth asteroid held together by weak force" — , August 13, 2014
- Whitney Heins. "University of Tennessee research uncovers forces that hold gravity-defying near-earth asteroid together" — , August 13, 2014