Interiors of small bodies: Foundations and perspectives

Richard P. Binzel, Michael A'Hearn, Erik Asphaug, M. Antonella Barucci, Michael Belton, Willy Benz, Alberto Cellino, Michel C. Festou, Marcello Fulchignoni, Alan W. Harris, Alessandro Rossi, Maria T. Zuber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


With the surface properties and shapes of solar system small bodies (comets and asteroids) now being routinely revealed by spacecraft and Earth-based radar, understanding their interior structure represents the next frontier in our exploration of these worlds. Principal unknowns include the complex interactions between material strength and gravity in environments that are dominated by collisions and thermal processes. Our purpose for this review is to use our current knowledge of small body interiors as a foundation to define the science questions which motivate their continued study: In which bodies do "planetary" processes occur? Which bodies are "accretion survivors", i.e., bodies whose current form and internal structure are not substantially altered from the time of formation? At what characteristic sizes are we most likely to find "rubble-piles", i.e., substantially fractured (but not reorganized) interiors, and intact monolith-like bodies? From afar, precise determinations of newly discovered satellite orbits provide the best prospect for yielding masses from which densities may be inferred for a diverse range of near-Earth, main-belt, Trojan, and Kuiper belt objects. Through digital modeling of collision outcomes, bodies that are the most thoroughly fractured (and weak in the sense of having almost zero tensile strength) may be the strongest in the sense of being able to survive against disruptive collisions. Thoroughly fractured bodies may be found at almost any size, and because of their apparent resistance to disruptive collisions, may be the most commonly found interior state for small bodies in the solar system today. Advances in the precise tracking of spacecraft are giving promise to high-order measurements of the gravity fields determined by rendezvous missions. Solving these gravity fields for uniquely revealing internal structure requires active experiments, a major new direction for technological advancement in the coming decade. We note the motivation for understanding the interior properties of small bodies is both scientific and pragmatic, as such knowledge is also essential for considering impact mitigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-454
Number of pages12
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Asteroids
  • Comets
  • Interiors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Interiors of small bodies: Foundations and perspectives'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this