DPS 35th Meeting, 1-6 September 2003
Session 32. Kuiper, Urey and Masursky Prize Lectures
Plenary, Chair: R. P. Binzel, Friday, September 5, 2003, 1:30-3:30pm, Steinbeck

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[32.01] Radar Observations of Asteroids

S. J. Ostro (JPL/Caltech)

During the past 25 years, radar investigations have provided otherwise unavailable information about the physical and dynamical properties of more than 200 asteroids. Measurements of the distribution of echo power in time delay and Doppler frequency provide two-dimensional images with spatial resolution as fine as a decameter. Sequences of delay-Doppler images can be used to produce geologically detailed three-dimensional models, to define the rotation state precisely, to constrain the internal density distribution, and to estimate the trajectory of the object's center of mass. Radar wavelengths (4 to 13 cm) and the observer's control of transmitted and received polarizations make the observations sensitive to near-surface bulk density and macroscopic structure. Since delay-Doppler positional measurements are orthogonal to optical angle measurements and typically have much finer fractional precision, they are powerful for refining orbits and prediction ephemerides. Radar astrometry can add decades or centuries to the interval over which an asteroid's close Earth approaches can accurately be predicted and can significantly refine collision probability estimates based on optical astrometry alone. In the highly unlikely case that a small body is on course for an Earth collision in this century, radar reconnaissance would almost immediately distinguish between an impact trajectory and a near miss and would dramatically reduce the difficulty and cost of any effort to prevent the collision. The sizes and rotation periods of radar-detected asteroids span more than four orders of magnitude. These observations have revealed both stony and metallic objects, elongated and nonconvex shapes as well as nearly featureless spheroids, small-scale morphology ranging from smoother than the lunar regolith to rougher than the rockiest terrain on Mars, craters and diverse linear structures, non-principal-axis spin states, contact binaries, and binary systems.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35 #4
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.