Constraining the Shape Distribution of Near-Earth Objects from Partial Light Curves

A. McNeill, J. L. Hora, A. Gustafsson, D. E. Trilling, M. Mommert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


In the absence of dense photometry for a large population of near-Earth objects (NEOs), the best method of obtaining a shape distribution comes from sparse photometry and partial light curves. We have used 867 partial light curves obtained by Spitzer to determine a shape distribution for subkilometer NEOs. From this data we find a best-fit average elongation of b a = 0.72 ±0.08. We compare this result with a shape distribution obtained from 1869 NEOs in the same size range observed by Pan-STARRS 1 (PS1) and find the Spitzer-obtained elongation to be in excellent agreement with this PS1 value of b a = 0.70 ±0.10. These values are also in agreement with literature values for 1 < D < 10 km objects in the main asteroid belt, however, there is a size discrepancy between the two data sets. Using a smaller sample of NEOs in the size range of 1 < D < 5 km from PS1 data, we obtain an average axis ratio of b/a = 0.70 ±0.12. This is more elongated than the shape distribution for main belt objects in the same size regime, although the current uncertainties are sizeable and this should be verified using a larger data set. As future large surveys come online it will be possible to observe smaller main belt asteroids to allow for better comparisons of different subkilometer populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number164
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • methods: statistical
  • minor planets, asteroids: general
  • techniques: photometric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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