Dynamics of rotationally fissioned asteroids: Source of observed small asteroid systems

Seth A. Jacobson*, Daniel J. Scheeres

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

162 Scopus citations


We present a model of near-Earth asteroid (NEA) rotational fission and ensuing dynamics that describes the creation of synchronous binaries and all other observed NEA systems including: doubly synchronous binaries, high-e binaries, ternary systems, and contact binaries. Our model only presupposes the Yarkovsky-O'Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect, "rubble pile" asteroid geophysics, and gravitational interactions. The YORP effect torques a "rubble pile" asteroid until the asteroid reaches its fission spin limit and the components enter orbit about each other (Scheeres, D.J. [2007]. Icarus 189, 370-385). Non-spherical gravitational potentials couple the spin states to the orbit state and chaotically drive the system towards the observed asteroid classes along two evolutionary tracks primarily distinguished by mass ratio. Related to this is a new binary process termed secondary fission - the secondary asteroid of the binary system is rotationally accelerated via gravitational torques until it fissions, thus creating a chaotic ternary system. The initially chaotic binary can be stabilized to create a synchronous binary by components of the fissioned secondary asteroid impacting the primary asteroid, solar gravitational perturbations, and mutual body tides. These results emphasize the importance of the initial component size distribution and configuration within the parent asteroid. NEAs may go through multiple binary cycles and many YORP-induced rotational fissions during their approximately 10. Myr lifetime in the inner Solar System. Rotational fission and the ensuing dynamics are responsible for all NEA systems including the most commonly observed synchronous binaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-178
Number of pages18
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Asteroids, Dynamics
  • Asteroids, Rotation
  • Near-Earth objects
  • Satellites of asteroids
  • Satellites, Formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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