Dynamical Spreading of Asteroid Families by the Yarkovsky Effect

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Science  23 Nov 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5547, pp. 1693-1696
DOI: 10.1126/science.1066760

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The orbital distributions of prominent asteroid families are thought to be direct by-products of catastrophic disruption events among diameter D ≳ 100 kilometer bodies. Ejection velocities derived from studying observed families, however, are surprisingly high compared with results from impact experiments and simulations. One way to resolve this apparent contradiction is by assuming that D ≲ 20 kilometer family members, since their formation, have undergone semimajor axis drift by the thermal force called the Yarkovsky effect. Interactions between drifting family members and resonances can also produce unique eccentricity and/or inclination changes. Together, these outcomes help explain (i) why families are sharply bounded by nearby Kirkwood gaps, (ii) why some families have asymmetric shapes, and (iii) the curious presence of family members on short-lived orbits.

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