AAS 204th Meeting, June 2004
Session 35 Professional-Amateur Collaboration for Enhanced Research
Topical Session, Tuesday, June 1, 2004, 8:30-10:00am, 10:45am-12:30pm, 710/712

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[35.08] Asteroid Lightcurve Photometry

A. W. Harris (Space Science Institute)

With the advent of modestly priced CCD cameras and computer controller and reduction software, amateurs can now do photometry on fainter targets than was possible even from large observatories only a decade or so ago. This has led to an explosion of lightcurve data that in turn has yielded rich results. We now have rotation periods for more than 1500 asteroids, extending down to objects only tens of meters in diameter, and well determined shapes and pole orientations of more than 100 objects. Among smaller asteroids, the dispersion in rotation rates ranges from minutes to months, with the slower ones mostly "tumbling," or in states of non-principal axis rotation. The fastest ones must be monolithic, as centrifugal force exceeds their gravity. But among those larger than a few hundred meters diameter, there is a "rotation barrier" at the rate where gravity and centrifugal force match, suggesting that most asteroids this large or larger are "rubble piles." The broad dispersion in spin rates, almost a bimodal distribution, has long been a mystery, but now appears likely to be due to thermal radiation torques from the randomly asymmetric shapes of small asteroids. This is a major paradigm shift from the past, where mutual collisions were considered to be the dominant (or only) evolutionary process affecting spins. Amateur observations have already contributed a great deal leading to this new view, and much remains to be done, providing abundant opportunities for amateur-professional collaborations.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: harrisaw@colorado.edu

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