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Asteroid Masses and Densities

  • Joachim Schubart (a1)

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Before 1966, when Hertz (1966) published his first direct determination of the mass of Vesta, all our knowledge on asteroid masses was based on estimates. The masses of the first four minor planets resulted from the measured diameters by Barnard (1900) (see the paper by Dollfus in this volume) and from estimated mean densities. The diameters of the smaller objects were derived from their brightness and an estimate of their reflectivity (usually the reflectivity of the Moon was adopted). In 1901, Bauschinger and Neugebauer (1901) derived a value for the total mass of the first 458 asteroids. All the diameters were computed from the brightness with an assumed value for the reflectivity. The diameter of Ceres found in this way is very close to Barnard’s (1900) value. The mean density of the 458 asteroids was put equal to that of Earth, and their total mass resulted as 3 X 10-9 solar mass. Stracke (1942) used the same method with an increased material, but the addition of more than 1000 faint asteroids did not bring a significant change in the estimate of the total mass. The report on the McDonald asteroid survey (Kuiper et al., 1958) does not contain another estimate of the total mass of the asteroid ring, but it points to the possibility of a very rapid increase in the number of asteroids with decreasing absolute brightness. If this increase is strong enough, each interval of 1 mag in absolute magnitude can contribute the same amount to the total mass. In the range of magnitudes covered by the Palomar-Leiden survey (PLS) (van Houten et al., 1970), there are no indications for such a strong increase.

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References

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