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M-type asteroids

Title: Spectroscopic survey of M--type asteroids
Authors: S. Fornasier, B. E. Clark, E. Dotto, A. Migliorini, M. Ockert-Bell, M.A. Barucci

M-type asteroids, as defined in the Tholen taxonomy (Tholen, 1984), are medium albedo bodies supposed to have a metallic composition and to be the progenitors both of differentiated iron-nickel meteorites and enstatite chondrites. We carried out a spectroscopic survey in the visible and near infrared wavelength range (0.4-2.5 micron) of 30 asteroids chosen from the population of asteroids initially classified as Tholen M -types, aiming to investigate their surface composition. The data were obtained during several observing runs during the years 2004-2007 at the TNG, NTT, and IRTF telescopes. We computed the spectral slopes in several wavelength ranges for each observed asteroid, and we searched for diagnostic spectral features. We confirm a large variety of spectral behaviours for these objects as their spectra are extended into the near-infrared, including the identification of weak absorption bands, mainly of the 0.9 micron band tentatively attributed to orthopyroxene, and of the 0.43 micron band that may be associated to chlorites and Mg-rich serpentines or pyroxene minerals such us pigeonite or augite. A comparison with previously published data indicates that the surfaces of several asteroids belonging to the M-class may vary significantly. We attempt to constrain the asteroid surface compositions of our sample by looking for meteorite spectral analogues in the RELAB database and by modelling with geographical mixtures of selected meteorites/minerals. We confirm that iron meteorites, pallasites, and enstatite chondrites are the best matches to most objects in our sample, as suggested for M-type asteroids. The presence of subtle absorption features on several asteroids confirms that not all objects defined by the Tholen M-class have a pure metallic composition.

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