37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 34 Prize Lectures
Invited, Wednesday, September 7, 2005, 9:00-11:15am, Music Concert Hall

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[34.02] Recent Breakups in the Asteroid Belt

D Nesvorny (SwRI)

Much of what we see in the asteroid belt today is a consequence of past collisions, which shaped the size-frequency distribution of asteroids and led to their heavily-cratered surfaces. Perhaps the most remarkable features of the belt are the asteroid families [1]. An asteroid family is a group of asteroid fragments with similar orbits and spectra produced by a collisional breakup of a large parent body. More than fifty families have been identified to date in the main belt [2]. These structures, when properly analyzed, hold important clues to the interior structure of asteroids, the physics of large scale collisions, and the overall evolution of the main belt since its formation [3].

Most of the known families are very old and thus have experienced significant dynamical and collisional erosion since their formation. This makes it difficult to clearly distinguish between features produced by the original breakup and those produced by on-going processes. Recent dynamical studies, however, have identified several asteroid families that are extremely young: the Iannini, Karin and Veritas families apparently formed at <5, 5.8 and 8.3 Ma, respectively [4,5]. These families represent nearly pristine examples of ejected fragments produced by disruptive asteroid collisions, because the observed remnants of recent breakups have apparently suffered limited dynamical and collisional erosion. Here we will discuss how studies of young asteroid families help us glean insights into the physics of large scale collisions, dynamical processes that affect small bodies in the Solar System, and the surface and interior properties of asteroids.

[1] Hirayama, 1918, AJ 31, 185--188. [2] Zappala et al., 2002, In Asteroids III, pp. 619-629. [3] Bottke et al., 2005, Icarus, 175, 111-140. [4] Nesvorny et al., 2002, Nature 417, 720--722. [5] Nesvorny et al., 2003, ApJ 591, 486--497.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #3
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