Infrared Spectroscopy of Large, Low-Albedo Asteroids: Are Ceres and Themis Archetypes or Outliers?

Andrew S. Rivkin, Ellen S. Howell, Joshua P. Emery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Low-albedo, hydrated objects dominate the list of the largest asteroids. These objects have varied spectral shapes in the 3-μm region, where diagnostic absorptions due to volatile species are found. Dawn's visit to Ceres has extended the view shaped by ground-based observing and shown that world to be a complex one, potentially still experiencing geological activity. We present 33 observations from 2.2 to 4.0 μm of eight large (D > 200 km) asteroids from the C spectral complex, with spectra inconsistent with the hydrated minerals we see in meteorites. We characterize their absorption band characteristics via polynomial and Gaussian fits to test their spectral similarity to Ceres, the asteroid 24 Themis (thought to be covered in ice frost), and the asteroid 51 Nemausa (spectrally similar to the CM meteorites). We confirm most of the observations are inconsistent with what is seen in meteorites and require additional absorbers. We find clusters in band centers that correspond to Ceres- and Themis-like spectra, but no hiatus in the distribution suitable for use to simply distinguish between them. We also find a range of band centers in the spectra that approaches what is seen on Comet 67P. Finally, variation is seen between observations for some objects, with the variation on 324 Bamberga consistent with hemispheric-level difference in composition. Given the ubiquity of objects with 3-μm spectra unlike what we see in meteorites, and the similarity of those spectra to the published spectra of Ceres and Themis, these objects appear much more to be archetypes than outliers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1393-1409
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Ceres
  • asteroid composition
  • meteorites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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