Origins for the Near-Earth Asteroids

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Science  07 Aug 1992:
Vol. 257, Issue 5071, pp. 779-782
DOI: 10.1126/science.257.5071.779


Because of their short dynamical lifetimes, the population of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) must be resupplied. Two sources have been hypothesized: main-belt asteroids and extinct comet nuclei. The difficulty of making physical measurements for similar sized (diameter D less than 5 kilometers) main-belt asteroids and comet nuclei has limited comparative tests for distinguishing between these alternatives. A new survey of physical properties for D < 5 kilometers main-belt asteroids reveals that their spin rate and shape distributions are similar to those of NEAs, as is fully consistent with a main-belt origin for most NEAs. Physical data on comet nuclei are limited. If the existing sample is representative of the comet population, analysis of the asteroid and comet samples constrains the fraction of comet nuclei to between 0 and 40 percent of the total NEA population.