Asteroid masses are the largest source of unmodeled forces in current planetary ephemerides research. Williams (1984) showed that the asteroids produce km size perturbations in the position of Mars. However, the masses of only three asteroids are known to better than 10%, and only six other asteroid masses have been determined at all.
Detecting the mass of an asteroid is difficult because the observed quantity is the change in the mean motion of a second, perturbed asteroid. Asteroid masses are small, so the change in the mean motion is typically on the order of 0."015 yr−1. Thus, excellent orbit determinations are needed both before and after the perturbing encounter. This requires high precision observations over as many oppositions as possible.
Hilton (1997) determined the mass of 15 Eunomia to within 25% by detecting perturbations of 1313 Berna. The greatest source of uncertainty in determining the mass of Eunomia was the very poor coverage and accuracy of pre-encounter observations. Hilton (1998) has determined the masses of 1 Ceres, 2 Pallas and 4 Vesta, all based on mutual interactions. The uncertainties in the masses are 1% for Ceres, 3% for Pallas, and 7% for Vesta. The masses of Ceres and Pallas are the best so far, and the mass for Vesta corroborates previous determinations of its mass.