The collisional and dynamical evolution of the main-belt and NEA size distributions

David P. O'Brien, Richard Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


The size distribution of main belt of asteroids is determined primarily by collisional processes. Large asteroids break up and form smaller asteroids in a collisional cascade, with the outcome controlled by the strength-size relationship for asteroids. In addition to collisional processes, the non-collisional removal of asteroids from the main belt (and their insertion into the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) population) is critical, and involves several effects: strong resonances increase the orbital eccentricity of asteroids and cause them to enter the inner planet region; chaotic diffusion by numerous weak resonances causes a slow leak of asteroids into the Mars- and Earth-crossing populations; and the Yarkovsky effect, a radiation force on asteroids, is the primary process that drives asteroids into these resonant escape routes. Yarkovsky drift is size-dependent and can modify the main-belt size distribution. The NEA size distribution is primarily determined by its source, the main-belt population, and by the size-dependent processes that deliver bodies from the main belt. All of these effects are simulated in a numerical collisional evolution model that incorporates removal by non-collisional processes. We test our model against a wide range of observational constraints, such as the observed main-belt and NEA size distributions, the number of asteroid families, the preserved basaltic crust of Vesta and its large south-pole impact basin, the cosmic ray exposure ages of meteorites, and the cratering records on asteroids. We find a strength-size relationship for main-belt asteroids and non-collisional removal rates from the main belt such that our model fits these constraints as best as possible within the parameter space we explore. Our results are consistent with other independent estimates of strength and removal rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-212
Number of pages34
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2005


  • Asteroids
  • Collisional evolution
  • Dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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