Asteroid Light Curves from the Palomar Transient Factory Survey: Rotation Periods and Phase Functions from Sparse Photometry

September 2015 • 2015AJ....150...75W

Authors • Waszczak, Adam • Chang, Chan-Kao • Ofek, Eran O. • Laher, Russ • Masci, Frank • Levitan, David • Surace, Jason • Cheng, Yu-Chi • Ip, Wing-Huen • Kinoshita, Daisuke • Helou, George • Prince, Thomas A. • Kulkarni, Shrinivas

Abstract • We fit 54,296 sparsely sampled asteroid light curves in the Palomar Transient Factory survey to a combined rotation plus phase-function model. Each light curve consists of 20 or more observations acquired in a single opposition. Using 805 asteroids in our sample that have reference periods in the literature, we find that the reliability of our fitted periods is a complicated function of the period, amplitude, apparent magnitude, and other light-curve attributes. Using the 805-asteroid ground-truth sample, we train an automated classifier to estimate (along with manual inspection) the validity of the remaining ∼53,000 fitted periods. By this method we find that 9033 of our light curves (of ∼8300 unique asteroids) have “reliable” periods. Subsequent consideration of asteroids with multiple light-curve fits indicates a 4% contamination in these “reliable” periods. For 3902 light curves with sufficient phase-angle coverage and either a reliable fit period or low amplitude, we examine the distribution of several phase-function parameters, none of which are bimodal though all correlate with the bond albedo and with visible-band colors. Comparing the theoretical maximal spin rate of a fluid body with our amplitude versus spin-rate distribution suggests that, if held together only by self-gravity, most asteroids are in general less dense than ∼2 g cm-3, while C types have a lower limit of between 1 and 2 g cm-3. These results are in agreement with previous density estimates. For 5-20 km diameters, S types rotate faster and have lower amplitudes than C types. If both populations share the same angular momentum, this may indicate the two types’ differing ability to deform under rotational stress. Lastly, we compare our absolute magnitudes (and apparent-magnitude residuals) to those of the Minor Planet Center’s nominal (G = 0.15, rotation-neglecting) model; our phase-function plus Fourier-series fitting reduces asteroid photometric rms scatter by a factor of ∼3.


IPAC Authors

George Helou

IPAC Executive Director

Frank Masci

Senior Scientist