Institution(s): 1. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 2. University of California, Los Angeles
The YORP-induced rotational fission hypothesis is the leading candidate for explaining the formation of binaries, triples, and pairs among small (<20 km) asteroids (e.g., Margot et al, Asteroids IV, subm., 2015). Various evolutionary paths following rotational fission have been suggested, but many important questions remain about the evolutionary mechanisms and timescales. We test hypotheses about the evolution of binary asteroids by obtaining precise descriptions of the orbits and components of binary systems with radar and by examining the system dynamics with detailed numerical simulations. Predictions for component spin states and orbital precession rates can then be compared to observables in our data sets or in other data sets to elucidate the states of various systems and their likely evolutionary paths.
Accurate simulations require knowledge of the masses, shapes, and spin states of individual binary components. Because radar observations can provide exquisite data sets spanning days with spatial resolutions at the decameter level, we can invert for the component shapes and measure spin states. We can also solve for the mutual orbit by fitting the observed separations between components. In addition, the superb (10e-7--10e-8) fractional uncertainties in range allow us to measure the reflex motions directly, allowing masses of individual components to be determined.
We use recently published observations of the binary 2000 DP107 (Naidu et al. AJ, subm., 2015) and that of other systems to simulate the dynamics of components in well-characterized binary systems (Naidu and Margot, AJ 149, 80, 2015). We model the coupled spin and orbital motions of two rigid, ellipsoidal bodies under the influence of their mutual gravitational potential. We use surface of section plots to map the possible spin configurations of the satellites. For asynchronous satellites, the analysis reveals large regions of phase space where the spin state of the satellite is chaotic. The presence of chaotic regions may substantially increase spin synchronization timescales, delay BYORP-type evolution, extend the lifetime of binaries, and explain the observed fraction of asynchronous binaries.