Telescopic observations of the polarization of light by asteroids are interpreted on the basis of a systematic polarimetric analysis of terrestrial, meteoritic and lunar samples. Laboratory measurements were made using samples with different surface textures, and scanning electron microscope pictures were used to investigate the influence of microtexture and crystalline structure.
It is demonstrated that asteioid surfaces do not accumulate thick regolithic layers of micro-fragments, as do the Moon and Mercury. This is because the majority of debris ejected by impacts are lost, due to the low gravitational escape velocity from these bodies. However, asteroids are not bare rocks, but are coated with a thin layer of adhesive debris. This coating apparently has the composition of the body itself. The fact that there is no indication of significant maturation by space weathering suggests that the dust which coats the surface of asteroids is frequently replaced by further impacts.
Asteroids may be classified polarimetrically in several groups: those in group C are made of very dark material and behave like carbonaceous chondrites, or very dark Fe-rich basalts; Those in group S correspond to silicates and stony meteorites. A third group represented by Asteroid 21 Lutetia and 16 Psyche may be metallic.