Thermophysical Investigation of Asteroid Surfaces. I. Characterization of Thermal Inertia

Eric M. MacLennan, Joshua P. Emery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The thermal inertia of an asteroid is an indicator of the thermophysical properties of the regolith and is determined by the size of grains on the surface. Previous thermophysical modeling studies of asteroids have identified or suggested that object size, rotation period, and heliocentric distance (a proxy for temperature) are important factors that separately influence thermal inertia. In this work we present new thermal inertia values for 239 asteroids and model all three factors in a multivariate model of thermal inertia. Using multiepoch infrared data of this large set of objects observed by WISE, we derive the size, albedo, thermal inertia, surface roughness, and sense of spin using a thermophysical modeling approach that does not require a priori knowledge of an object's shape or spin axis direction. Our thermal inertia results are consistent with previous values from the literature for similarly sized asteroids, and we identify an excess of retrograde rotators among main-belt asteroids <8 km. We then combine our results with thermal inertias of 220 objects from the literature to construct a multivariate model and quantify the dependency on asteroid diameter, rotation period, and surface temperature. This multivariate model, which accounts for codependencies between the three independent variables, identifies asteroid diameter and surface temperature as strong controls on thermal inertia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number161
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Asteroid surfaces (2209)
  • Asteroids (72)
  • Infrared astronomy (786)
  • Infrared photometry (792)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics


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