Discovering Asteroids

Extraordinarily good video visualizing the last three decades of asteroid discovery

It is a bit slow to start with, but really picks up in the last minute.
Worth the wait.

Nice one.
And not done yet.

About time to do a similar visualization of the Kuiper belt objects and outer asteroids.

h/t Bulent via fb


  1. #1 Greg Laden
    August 27, 2010

    Wow. I love the way the discoveries appear as flashlight beams coming out from Earth, like the drunk under the lightpost.

    It also looks like the asteroids are distributed less as a function of some asteroid creating event as we learned in school and more as a function of where they have not been cleared by the energetic activity of the inner planets. Am I just making that up?

  2. #2 Steinn Sigurdsson
    August 27, 2010

    The orbital elements of the surviving asteroids are mostly set by Jupiter – resonances with Jupiter’s orbit clear out zones, the so-called “Kirkwood gaps”.

    Known asteroids are selection biased – our ability to discover them is not uniform in orbital space, yet.

  3. #3 NoAstronomer
    August 27, 2010

    Go to the video on Youtube to read more comments about the coloring and why see the flashes of discovery.

  4. #4 Gray Gaffer
    August 27, 2010

    Very interesting. And not a little scary – all those NEO’s dancing around us!

  5. #5 Lurker #753
    August 27, 2010

    @Greg #1: The existence of solid nickel-iron asteroids implies they were once molten and then gravitationally sorted – i.e. they must have been part of the interior of much larger objects that were then shattered. A certain unreliable online encyclopaedia claims (but not does not give a reference) that chemical analysis of nickel-iron meteorites indicates 50+ distinct parent bodies. As to whether this is compatible with what you were taught in school…. what were you taught in school?

  6. #6 andy
    August 27, 2010

    It’s pretty neat to see the Trojan asteroids lighting up in Jupiter’s orbit. Also there seems to be a conspicuous absence of objects within the orbit of Mercury, I guess it’s not a good idea to point sensitive cameras in that direction.

  7. #7 Rosie Redfield
    August 28, 2010

    VERY nice! Thank you!

  8. #8 Russell
    August 28, 2010

    What technology change happens about 2009, that adds two cones of discovery, no longer just the one outbound from earth, but also tangential to our orbit?

  9. #9 Pierce R. Butler
    August 28, 2010

    … an asteroid. One of those despised celestial bodies which terrestrial astronomers call vermin of the sky, because the darned things leave trails across the plates that clutter up the most important observations of novae and nebulae. Fifty thousand fleas on the dark dog of night.

    — Fredric Brown, “Star Mouse”

  10. #10 Nathan
    August 29, 2010

    What technology change happens about 2009, that adds two cones of discovery, no longer just the one outbound from earth, but also tangential to our orbit?

    The WISE satellite came online. Asteroids are much brighter in the IR, WISE will find all of the large NEOs.

    See this discussion of the WISE asteroid survey.

  11. #11 Kris
    September 1, 2010

    Is it possible for the asteroids to someday come to form another planet in the future?

  12. #12 Steinn Sigurdsson
    September 1, 2010

    @Kris – no, the total mass in the asteroids is far too small to make a planet, and they are too widely dispersed to have any chance of agglomerating

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.