Compositional distributions and evolutionary processes for the near-Earth object population: Results from the MIT-Hawaii Near-Earth Object Spectroscopic Survey (MITHNEOS)

R. P. Binzel, F. E. DeMeo, E. V. Turtelboom, S. J. Bus, A. Tokunaga, T. H. Burbine, C. Lantz, D. Polishook, B. Carry, A. Morbidelli, M. Birlan, P. Vernazza, B. J. Burt, N. Moskovitz, S. M. Slivan, C. A. Thomas, A. S. Rivkin, M. D. Hicks, T. Dunn, V. ReddyJ. A. Sanchez, M. Granvik, T. Kohout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


Advancing technology in near-infrared instrumentation and dedicated planetary telescope facilities have enabled nearly two decades of reconnoitering the spectral properties for near-Earth objects (NEOs). We report measured spectral properties for more than 1000 NEOs, representing >5% of the currently discovered population. Thermal flux detected below 2.5 µm allows us to make albedo estimates for nearly 50 objects, including two comets. Additional spectral data are reported for more than 350 Mars-crossing asteroids. Most of these measurements were achieved through a collaboration between researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Hawaii, with full cooperation of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Mauna Kea. We call this project the MIT-Hawaii Near-Earth Object Spectroscopic Survey (MITHNEOS; myth-neos). While MITHNEOS has continuously released all spectral data for immediate use by the scientific community, our objectives for this paper are to: (1) detail the methods and limits of the survey data, (2) formally present a compilation of results including their taxonomic classification within a single internally consistent framework, (3) perform a preliminary analysis on the overall population characteristics with a concentration toward deducing key physical processes and identifying their source region for escaping the main belt. Augmenting our newly published measurements are the previously published results from the broad NEO community, including many results graciously shared by colleagues prior to formal publication. With this collective data set, we find the near-Earth population matches the diversity of the main-belt, with all main-belt taxonomic classes represented in our sample. Potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) as well as the subset of mission accessible asteroids (ΔV ≤ 7 km/s) both appear to be a representative mix of the overall NEO population, consistent with strong dynamical mixing for the population that interacts most closely with Earth. Mars crossers, however, are less diverse and appear to more closely match the inner belt population from where they have more recently diffused. The fractional distributions of major taxonomic classes (60% S, 20% C, 20% other) appear remarkably constant over two orders of magnitude in size (10 km to 100 m), which is eight orders of magnitude in mass, though we note unaccounted bias effects enter into our statistics below about 500 m. Given the range of surface ages, including possible refreshment by planetary encounters, we are able to identify a very specific space weathering vector tracing the transition from Q- to Sq- to S-types that follows the natural dispersion for asteroid spectra mapped into principal component space. We also are able to interpret a shock darkening vector that may account for some objects having featureless spectra. Space weathering effects for C-types are complex; these results are described separately by Lantz, Binzel, DeMeo. (2018, Icarus 302, 10–17). Independent correlation of dynamical models with taxonomic classes map the escape zones for NEOs to main-belt regions consistent with well established heliocentric compositional gradients. We push beyond taxonomy to interpret our visible plus near-infrared spectra in terms of the olivine and pyroxene mineralogy consistent with the H, L, and LL classes of ordinary chondrites meteorites. Correlating meteorite interpretations with dynamical escape region models shows a preference for LL chondrites to arrive from the ν6 resonance and H chondrites to have a preferential signature from the mid-belt region (3:1 resonance). L chondrites show some preference toward the outer belt, but not at a significant level. We define a Space Weathering Parameter as a continuous variable and find evidence for step-wise changes in space weathering properties across different planet crossing zones in the inner solar system. Overall we hypothesize the relative roles of planetary encounters, YORP spin-up, and thermal cycling across the inner solar system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-76
Number of pages36
StatePublished - May 15 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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