Orbital motions of over 100,000 asteroids visualized

Feb 24, 2014 by Nancy Atkinson
Illustration from Parker et al, 2008, of the decomposition of the main-belt asteroid population into families and background objects in proper a vs. sin(i) (left panels) and proper a vs. e (right panels). The top panels show all (background and family) objects in the data subset. The two middle panels show objects from 37 identified families, and the bottom two panels show the background population. Credit: Parker et al, 2008.

Who knew asteroids could be so beautiful and mesmerizing? In 2008, a group of astronomers led by Alex Parker did a study of the size distribution of asteroid families using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Asteroid families often have distinctive optical colors, the team said, and they were able to offer an improved way to separate out the family members into their colors. This resultant animation put together just this week by Parker shows the orbital motions of over 100,000 asteroids, with colors illustrating the compositional diversity and relative sizes of the asteroids.

"The compositional gradient of the is clearly visible," says Parker, "with green Vesta-family members in the inner belt fading through the blue C-class asteroids in the outer belt, and the deep red Trojan swarms beyond that."

All main-belt asteroids and Trojan asteroids with orbits known to high precision are shown in the video and the animation is rendered with a timestep of 3 days. Via Twitter, Parker said this animation took—from start to finish—20 hours to render on 8 CPUs.

For reference, the average orbital distances of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter are illustrated with rings.

Explore further: 'Rogue' asteroids may be the norm

More information: "The Size Distributions of Asteroid Families in the SDSS Moving Object Catalog 4." Alex H. Parker, Zeljko Ivezic, Mario Juric, Robert H. Lupton, Michael D. Sekora, Adam F. Kowalski. arXiv:0807.3762 [astro-ph]. DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2008.07.002

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Rogue' asteroids may be the norm

Jan 29, 2014

To get an idea of how the early solar system may have formed, scientists often look to asteroids. These relics of rock and dust represent what today's planets may have been before they differentiated into ...

WISE mission finds lost asteroid family members

May 30, 2013

(Phys.org) —Data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have led to a new and improved family tree for asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Asteroids' close encounters with Mars

Nov 19, 2013

For nearly as long as astronomers have been able to observe asteroids, a question has gone unanswered: Why do the surfaces of most asteroids appear redder than meteorites—the remnants of asteroids that ...

Scientists search for moons around asteroids

Oct 06, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Most people know that some planets have moons but would be surprised to know that some asteroids do, too. According to Joshua Emery, assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences at ...

Recommended for you

SpaceX rocket explodes during test flight

6 hours ago

A SpaceX rocket exploded in midair during a test flight, though no one was injured, as the company seeks to develop a spacecraft that can return to Earth and be used again.

Amazing raw Cassini images from this week

Aug 22, 2014

When Saturn is at its closest to Earth, it's three-quarters of a billion miles away—or more than a billion kilometers! That makes these raw images from the ringed planet all the more remarkable.

Europe launches two navigation satellites

Aug 22, 2014

Two satellites for Europe's rival to GPS were lifted into space on Friday to boost the Galileo constellation to six orbiters of a final 30, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

SpaceX gets 10-year tax exemption for Texas site

Aug 22, 2014

Cameron County commissioners have agreed to waive 10 years of county taxes as part of an agreement bringing the world's first commercial site for orbital rocket launches to the southernmost tip of Texas.

Voyager map details Neptune's strange moon Triton

Aug 22, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up look at Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. Like an old film, Voyager's historic footage of Triton has been "restored" ...

User comments : 0