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New International Study Shows Some Asteroids Live in Own 'Little Worlds'

While the common perception of asteroids is that they are giant rocks lumbering about in orbit, a new study shows they actually are constantly changing "little worlds" that can give birth to smaller asteroids that split off to start their own lives as they circle around the sun.
Astronomers have known that small asteroids get "spun up" to fast rotation rates by sunlight falling on them, much like propellers in the wind. The new results show when asteroids spin fast enough, they can undergo "rotational fission," splitting into two pieces which then begin orbiting each other. Such "binary asteroids" are fairly common in the solar system.

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Title: Orbital properties of binary minor planets
Authors: Smadar Naoz, Hagai B. Perets, Darin Ragozzine

Many binary minor planets (BMPs; both binary asteroids and binary Trans-Neptunians objects; TNOs) are known to exist in the Solar system. The currently observed orbital and physical properties of BMPs hold essential information and clues about their origin, their evolution and the conditions under which they evolved. Here we study the orbital properties of BMPs with currently known orbital solutions (the BMPs mutual orbits and not the BMP orbits around the sun). We find that BMPs are typically highly inclined relative to their orbit around the sun, with a distribution consistent with an isotropic distribution. BMPs not affected by tidal forces are found to have high eccentricities with non-thermal eccentricity distribution peaking at intermediate eccentricities (typically 0.4-0.6). The high inclinations and eccentricities of the BMPs suggest that BMPs evolved in a dense collisional environment, in which gravitational encounters in addition to tidal and secular Kozai affects played an important role in their orbital evolution.

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