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Solar System binaries

  • Keith S. Noll (a1)
Abstract

The discovery of binaries in each of the major populations of minor bodies in the solar system is propelling a rapid growth of heretofore unattainable physical information. The availability of mass and density constraints for minor bodies opens the door to studies of internal structure, comparisons with meteorite samples, and correlations between bulk-physical and surface-spectral properties. The number of known binaries is now more than 70 and is growing rapidly. A smaller number have had the extensive followup observations needed to derive mass and albedo information, but this list is growing as well. It will soon be the case that we will know more about the physical parameters of objects in the Kuiper Belt than has been known about asteroids in the Main Belt for the last 200 years. Another important aspect of binaries is understanding the mechanisms that lead to their formation and survival. The relative sizes and separations of binaries in the different minor body populations point to more than one mechanism for forming bound pairs. Collisions appear to play a major role in the Main Belt. Rotational and/or tidal fission may be important in the Near Earth population. For the Kuiper Belt, capture in multi-body interactions may be the preferred formation mechanism. However, all of these conclusions remain tentative and limited by observational and theoretical incompleteness. Observational techniques for identifying binaries are equally varied. High angular resolution observations from space and from the ground are critical for detection of the relatively distant binaries in the Main Belt and the Kuiper Belt. Radar has been the most productive method for detection of Near Earth binaries. Lightcurve analysis is an independent technique that is capable of exploring phase space inaccessible to direct observations. Finally, spacecraft flybys have played a crucial paradigm-changing role with discoveries that unlocked this now-burgeoning field.

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Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union
  • ISSN: 1743-9213
  • EISSN: 1743-9221
  • URL: /core/journals/proceedings-of-the-international-astronomical-union
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