Description from the University of Arizona Press:
Over the past decade, asteroids have come to the forefront of planetary science. Scientists across broad disciplines are increasingly recognizing that understanding asteroids is essential to discerning the basic processes of planetary formation, including how their current distribution bespeaks our solar system's cataclysmic past. For explorers, the nearest asteroids beckon as the most accessible milestones in interplanetary space, offering spaceflight destinations easier to reach than the lunar surface. For futurists, the prospects of asteroids as commercial resources tantalize as a twenty-first-century gold rush, albeit with far greater challenges than faced by nineteenth-century pioneers. For humanity, it is the realization that asteroids matter. It is not a question of if — but when — the next major impact will occur. While the disaster probabilities are thankfully small, fully cataloging and characterizing the potentially hazardous asteroid population remains unfinished business.
Asteroids IV sets the latest scientific foundation upon which all these topics and more will be built upon for the future. Nearly 150 international authorities through more than 40 chapters convey the definitive state of the field by detailing our current astronomical, compositional, geological, and geophysical knowledge of asteroids, as well as their unique physical processes and interrelationships with comets and meteorites. Most importantly, this volume outlines the outstanding questions that will focus and drive researchers and students of all ages toward new advances in the coming decade and beyond.
The geophysical study of asteroids has moved from the realm of speculation and constraint to a more data rich environment where observations can be directly used to understand and probe the physical nature of these bodies. While many broad questions were posed in the Asteroids III chapter on asteroid interiors, in the current setting we are now able to probe more deeply into these questions, taking advantage of many different observations of asteroids across their entire size scale. The current chapter will take a very broad survey of what constraints currently exist in this area, what progress has been made in understanding these bodies analytically and through simulations, and what current theories can inform and guide future observations and tests of our understanding. The following topics are covered in this chapter: the strength of asteroid materials as inferred from meteors and meteorites, the density and porosity of asteroids as inferred from remote observations, global constraints on asteroid strength and morphology based on ground- and spacebased observations, analytical theories of asteroid strength and evolution, and the current state of numerical simulation techniques of asteroid interiors and morphology.
In the past decade, the number of known binary near-Earth asteroids has more than quadrupled and the number of known large main-belt asteroids with satellites has doubled. Half a dozen triple asteroids have been discovered, and the previously unrecognized populations of asteroid pairs and small main-belt binaries have been identified. The current observational evidence confirms that small (≤20 km) binaries form by rotational fission and establishes that the Yarkovsky-O'Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect powers the spin-up process. A unifying paradigm based on rotational fission and post-fission dynamics can explain the formation of small binaries, triples, and pairs. Large (≥20 km) binaries with small satellites are most likely created during large collisions.
In the past decade, hundreds of asteroid shape models have been derived using the lightcurve inversion method. At the same time, a new framework of three-dimensional shape modeling based on the combined analysis of widely different data sources -- such as optical lightcurves, disk-resolved images, stellar occultation timings, mid-infrared thermal radiometry, optical interferometry, and radar delay-Doppler data -- has been developed. This multi-data approach allows the determination of most of the physical and surface properties of asteroids in a single, coherent inversion, with spectacular results. We review the main results of asteroid lightcurve inversion and also recent advances in multi-data modeling. We show that models based on remote sensing data were confirmed by spacecraft encounters with asteroids, and we discuss how the multiplication of highly detailed three-dimensional models will help to refine our general knowledge of the asteroid population. The physical and surface properties of asteroids, i.e., their spin, three-dimensional shape, density, thermal inertia, and surface roughness, are among the least known of all asteroid properties. Apart from the albedo and diameter, we have access to the whole picture for only a few hundreds of asteroids. These quantities are nevertheless very important to understand, as they affect the nongravitational Yarkovsky effect responsible for meteorite delivery to Earth, as well as the bulk composition and internal structure of asteroids.