Asteroids: Their composition and impact threat


Authors: Burbine TH

Published in: Bulletin of Geosciences, volume 77, issue 4; pages: 243 - 252; Received 1 October 2002; Accepted in revised form 12 November 2002;

Keywords: Earth, asteroids, impact features, meteorites, mineral composition, geologic hazards,

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Impacts by near-Earth asteroids are serious threats to life as we know it. The energy of the impact will be a function of the mass of the asteroid and its impact velocity. The mass of an asteroid is very difficult to determine from Earth. One way to derive a near-Earth object's mass is by estimating the object's density from its surface composition. Reflectance spectra are the best way to determine an object's composition since many minerals (e.g. olivine, pyroxene, hydrated silicates) have characteristic absorption features. However, metallic iron does not have characteristic absorption bands and is very hard to identify from Earth. For a particular size, asteroids with compositions similar to iron meteorites pose the biggest impact threat since they have the highest densities, but they are expected to be only a few percent of the impacting population. Knowing an asteroid's composition is also vital for understanding how best to divert an incoming asteroid.