Thermophysical Modeling of Asteroid Surfaces Using Ellipsoid Shape Models

Eric M. Maclennan, Joshua P. Emery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Thermophysical Models (TPMs), which have proven to be a powerful tool in the interpretation of the infrared emission of asteroid surfaces, typically make use of shape models and spin axes obtained a priori for use as input boundary conditions. We test and then employ a TPM approach - under an assumption of an ellipsoidal shape - that exploits the combination of thermal multi-wavelength observations obtained at pre- and post-opposition. Thermal infrared data, when available at these observing circumstances, are inherently advantageous in constraining thermal inertia and sense of spin, among other physical traits. We show that, despite the lack of a priori knowledge mentioned above, the size, albedo, and thermal inertia of an object are well-constrained with precision comparable to that of previous techniques. Useful estimates of the surface roughness, shape, and spin direction can also be made, to varying degrees of success. Applying the method to Wide-Field infrared Survey Explorer observations, we present best-fit size, albedo, thermal inertia, surface roughness, shape elongation and sense of spin direction for 21 asteroids. We explore the thermal inertia's correlation with asteroid diameter, after accounting for its dependence on the heliocentric distance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • methods: numerical
  • methods: observational
  • methods: statistical
  • minor planets, asteroids: general
  • surveys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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