36th DPS Meeting, 8-12 November 2004
Session 12 Prize Lectures
Invited, Tuesday, November 9, 2004, 1:30-4:00pm, Lewis

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[12.02] Urey Prize Lecture: Binary Minor Planets

J. L. Margot (Cornell University)

The discovery of binary systems in the near-Earth, main belt, and Kuiper belt populations provides an abundance of new data that expand our knowledge of the physics and chemistry of the solar system. Binary minor planets form as a result of collisional, tidal, and capture processes that are important to study as they play major roles in the formation and evolution of planetary systems. The frequency of occurrence of such processes directly reflects the dynamical environment in the various populations. Observations of binaries provide a powerful way to measure the bulk properties of small bodies, which in turn lead to inferences about their composition and internal structure. These data may offer a rare glimpse of what physical and chemical conditions prevailed when protoplanets formed, and what subsequent evolution took place. In the case of the Kuiper Belt, the study of a handful of binaries forces us to rethink how dense and how bright these bodies are, and to significantly revise our current mass estimates for the entire population.

The number of known binary minor planets has increased dramatically over the past few years, with roughly ten new discoveries each year. I will attempt to summarize recent developments, with examples drawn from my observations with the Hubble, Palomar, Keck, Arecibo and Goldstone telescopes.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 36 #4
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.