Author(s): , , , , , , , , ,
Institution(s): 1. German Aerospace Center (DLR), 2. Harvard-Smithsonian CfA, 3. JPL, 4. Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 5. Lowell Observatory, 6. Northern Arizona University, 7. University of Tennessee
More than 12000 Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) have been discovered over the past few decades and current discovery surveys find on average 4 new NEOs every night. In comparison to asteroid discovery, the physical characterization of NEOs lags far behind: measured diameters and albedos exist only for roughly 10% of all known NEOs. We describe a current and a future observing program that provide diameter and albedo measurements of a large number of NEOs.
In our Spitzer Space Telescope Exploration Science program 'NEOSurvey', we are performing a fast and efficient flux-limited survey in which we measure the diameters and albedos of ~600 NEOs in a total of 710 hrs of observing time. We measure the thermal emission of our targets at 4.5 micron and combine these measurements with optical data in a thermal model. Our diameters and albedos come with highly realistic uncertainties that account for a wide range of potential asteroid properties. Our primary goal is to create a large and uniform catalog of NEO properties, including diameters, albedos, and flux density data. This catalog is publicly accessible and provides the latest results usually within 2 weeks after the observation.
Starting in 2016, we will also make use of the refurbished and recommissioned MIRSI mid-infrared imaging camera on NASA's InfraRed Telescope Facility (IRTF) to derive the diameters and albedos of up to 750 NEOs over a period of 3 yrs. MIRSI will be equipped with an optical camera that will allow for simultaneous optical imaging, which will improve our thermal modeling results. With MIRSI, we will focus on newly discovered NEOs that are close to Earth and hence relatively bright.
The results from both programs, together with already exisiting diameter and albedo results from the literature, will form the largest database of NEO physical properties available to date. With this data set, we will be able to refine the size distribution of small NEOs and the corresponding impact frequency, and compare the albedo distribution of NEOs with those of their potential source populations. These projects are supported by NASA and the Spitzer Science Center.