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Compositional differences between meteorites and near-Earth asteroids


Understanding the nature and origin of the asteroid population in Earth’s vicinity (near-Earth asteroids, and its subset of potentially hazardous asteroids) is a matter of both scientific interest and practical importance1. It is generally expected that the compositions of the asteroids that are most likely to hit Earth should reflect those of the most common meteorites. Here we report that most near-Earth asteroids (including the potentially hazardous subset) have spectral properties quantitatively similar to the class of meteorites known as LL chondrites. The prominent Flora family in the inner part of the asteroid belt shares the same spectral properties, suggesting that it is a dominant source of near-Earth asteroids. The observed similarity of near-Earth asteroids to LL chondrites is, however, surprising, as this meteorite class is relatively rare (8 per cent of all meteorite falls). One possible explanation is the role of a size-dependent process, such as the Yarkovsky effect, in transporting material from the main belt.

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Figure 1: Spectral comparisons of asteroids and meteorites.
Figure 2: Model results for the ratio of olivine to olivine+orthopyroxene for 57 ordinary chondrites and 38 S- and Q-type NEAs.


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We acknowledge S. M. Slivan (Wellesley College) for data processing software development. Most data were acquired by the authors operating as Visiting Astronomers at the IRTF, which is operated by the University of Hawaii under cooperative agreement NNX08AE38A with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Planetary Astronomy Program. This Letter is based on work supported by the NSF (grant 0506716) and NASA (grant NAG5-12355). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF or NASA.

Author Contributions P.V. performed the quantitative mineral analysis that solidified the results of this Letter, and led the formulation of possible explanations. C.A.T. provided the quantitative analysis of spectral properties. S.J.B. provided the comparison to the Flora region. R.P.B. and A.T.T. served as principal investigators for a joint observing programme to acquire the near-infrared data. Most data were acquired by R.P.B, S.J.B. and C.A.T., while F.E.D. performed most of the processing. Processing routines were developed by S.J.B., A.S.R. and R.P.B. P.V. and R.P.B. worked jointly to write the Letter. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to P. Vernazza.

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Vernazza, P., Binzel, R., Thomas, C. et al. Compositional differences between meteorites and near-Earth asteroids. Nature 454, 858–860 (2008).

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