Thermophysical Investigation of Asteroid Surfaces. II. Factors Influencing Grain Size

Eric M. MacLennan, Joshua P. Emery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Asteroid surfaces are subjected to mechanical weathering processes that result in the development and evolution of regolith. Two proposed mechanisms—impact bombardment and thermal fatigue—have been proposed as viable and dominant weathering processes. Previously, we compiled and estimated thermal inertias of several hundred asteroids (mostly in the main belt) for which we determined dependencies on temperature, diameter, and rotation period. In this work, we estimate grain sizes of asteroid regoliths from this large thermal inertia data set using thermal conductivity models. Following our previous work, we perform multivariate linear model fits to the grain size data set and quantify its dependency on diameter and rotation period. We find that the preferred model indicates that asteroid grain sizes are inversely dependent on object size for <10 km asteroids and exhibit no relationship above this size cutoff. Rotation period and grain size show a positive relationship when the rotation period is greater than ∼5 hr and an inverse relationship below this rotation period. These results indicate that both impact weathering and thermal fatigue are relevant regolith evolution mechanisms. We run post-hoc t-tests between spectral groups to infer the influence of composition on regolith grain sizes. We find that M-type (including suspected metal-rich objects) and E-type asteroids have larger grain sizes relative to our population sample and that P-type asteroids have distinctly smaller grains than other groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number47
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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