On the asteroid belt's orbital and size distribution

Brett J. Gladman*, Donald R. Davis, Carol Neese, Robert Jedicke, Gareth Williams, J. J. Kavelaars, Jean Marc Petit, Hans Scholl, Matthew Holman, Ben Warrington, Gil Esquerdo, Pasquale Tricarico

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    75 Citations (Scopus)


    For absolute magnitudes greater than the current completeness limit of H-magnitude ∼15 the main asteroid belt's size distribution is imperfectly known. We have acquired good-quality orbital and absolute H-magnitude determinations for a sample of small main-belt asteroids in order to study the orbital and size distribution beyond H = 15, down to sub-kilometer sizes (H > 18). Based on six observing nights over a 11-night baseline we have detected, measured photometry for, and linked observations of 1087 asteroids which have one-week time baselines or more. The linkages allow the computation of full heliocentric orbits (as opposed to statistical distances determined by some past surveys). Judged by known asteroids in the field the typical uncertainty in the (a / e / i) orbital elements is less than 0.03 AU/0.03/0.5°. The distances to the objects are sufficiently well known that photometric uncertainties (of 0.3 magnitudes or better) dominate the error budget of their derived H-magnitudes. The detected asteroids range from HR = 12 - 22 and provide a set of objects down to sizes below 1 km in diameter. We find an on-sky surface density of 210 asteroids per square degree in the ecliptic with opposition magnitudes brighter than mR = 23, with the cumulative number of asteroids increasing by a factor of 100.27/mag from mR = 18 down to the mR ≃ 23.5 limit of our survey. In terms of absolute H magnitudes, we find that beyond H = 15 the belt exhibits a constant power-law slope with the number increasing proportional to 100.30 H from H ≃ 15 to 18, after which incompleteness begins in the survey. Examining only the subset of detections inside 2.5 AU, we find weak evidence for a mildly shallower slope for H = 15 - 19.5. We provide the information necessary such that anyone wishing to model the main asteroid belt can compare a detailed model to our detected sample.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)104-118
    Number of pages15
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


    • Asteroids
    • Collisional physics
    • Orbit determination


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