The Origin of Apollo Objects

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The source of the Earth-orbit-crossing asteroids has been much debated. (This class of asteroidal bodies includes the Apollo, Aten, and some Amor objects, each with its own orbital characteristics; we shall use the term Apollo objects to mean all Earth-crossers.) It is difficult to find a mechanism which would create new Apollo objects at a sufficient rate to balance the loss due to collision with planets and ejection from the solar system, and thus explain the estimated steady-state number. A likely source is the main asteroid belt, since it has similar photometric characteristics. There are gaps in the main belt ... continued below

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Perlmutter, Saul March 29, 1984.

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The source of the Earth-orbit-crossing asteroids has been much debated. (This class of asteroidal bodies includes the Apollo, Aten, and some Amor objects, each with its own orbital characteristics; we shall use the term Apollo objects to mean all Earth-crossers.) It is difficult to find a mechanism which would create new Apollo objects at a sufficient rate to balance the loss due to collision with planets and ejection from the solar system, and thus explain the estimated steady-state number. A likely source is the main asteroid belt, since it has similar photometric characteristics. There are gaps in the main belt which correspond to orbits resonant with the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, and it has been shown that the resonances can perturb a body into an Earth-crossing orbit. Apollo objects could thus be generated when random collisions between asteroids in the main belt sent fragments into these resonant orbits. Calculations of the creation rate from these random collisions, however, yielcl numbers too low by a factor of four. This rate could be significantly lower given the uncertainty in the efficiency of the resonance mechanism. As an alternative, it was suggested that the evaporation of a comet's volatile mantle as it passes near the sun could provide enough non-gravitational force to move the comet into an orbit with aphelion inside of Jupiter's orbit, and thus safe from ejection from the solar system. The probability of such an event occurring is unknown, although the recent discovery of the 'asteroid' 1983 TB, with an orbit matching that of the Geminid meteor shower, suggests that such a mechanism has occurred at least once. New evidence from paleontology and geophysics, however, suggests a better solution to the problem of the source of the Apollos. M. Davis, P. Hut, and R. A. Muller recently proposed that an unseen companion to the sun passes through the Oort cloud every 28 million years, sending a shower of comets to the Earth; this provides an explanation for the periodicity of the fossil record of extinctions found by D. M. Raup and J. J. Sepkoski. W. Alvarez and R. A. Muller have shown that the craters on the earth have an age distribution with a periodicity and phase consistent with this hypothesis. These periodic comet showers would of course pass through the entire solar system, colliding with other bodies besides the earth. When the target is the asteroid belt, many small comets will have sufficient kinetic energy to disrupt large asteroids. This will generate many more fragments in the resonant orbits than would be generated by random collisions of asteroids with each other, and hence more Apollo objects. In this report, we shall calculate approximately (A) the number of comets per shower which cross the asteroid belt, (B) the probability of collisions with a single asteroid per shower, (C) the number of fragments with radius > 0.5 km which reach Apollo orbits, and (D) the current expected number of Apollos derived from comet/asteroid collisions. Given conservative assumptions, the calculated number is in agreement with observations.

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  • Journal Name: Nature

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  • Report No.: LBL-17342
  • Grant Number: DE-AC02-05CH11231
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1010936
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc836882

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  • March 29, 1984

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  • May 19, 2016, 3:16 p.m.

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  • June 15, 2016, 9:14 p.m.

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Perlmutter, Saul. The Origin of Apollo Objects, article, March 29, 1984; Berkeley, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc836882/: accessed December 9, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.