Tumbling asteroids

P. Pravec, A. W. Harris, P. Scheirich, P. Kušnirák, L. Šarounová, C. W. Hergenrother, S. Mottola, M. D. Hicks, G. Masi, Yu N. Krugly, V. G. Shevchenko, M. C. Nolan, E. S. Howell, M. Kaasalainen, A. Galád, P. Brown, D. R. DeGraff, J. V. Lambert, W. R. Cooney, S. Foglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


We present both a review of earlier data and new results on non-principal axis rotators (tumblers) among asteroids. Among new tumblers found, the best data we have are for 2002 TD60, 2000 WL107, and (54789) 2001 MZ7-each of them shows a lightcurve with two frequencies (full terms with linear combinations of the two frequencies are present in the lightcurve). For 2002 TD60, we have constructed a physical model of the NPA rotation. Other recent objects which have been found to be likely tumblers based on their lightcurves that do not fit with a single periodicity are 2002 NY40, (16067) 1999 RH27, and (5645) 1990 SP. We have done a statistical analysis of the present sample of the population of NPA rotators. It appears that most asteroids larger than ∼ 0.4 km with estimated damping timescales (Harris, 1994, Icarus 107, 209) of 4.5 byr and longer are NPA rotators. The statistic of two short-period tumblers (D and 0.4 km) with non-zero tensile strength suggests that for them the quantity μ Q/T, where μ is the mechanical rigidity, Q is the elastic dissipation factor, and T is a spin excitation age (i.e., a time elapsed since the last significant spin excitation event), is greater by two to four orders of magnitude than the larger, likely rubble-pile tumblers. Among observational conditions and selection effects affecting detections of NPA rotations, there is a bias against detection of low-amplitude (small elongation) tumblers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-131
Number of pages24
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Asteroids
  • Excited rotation
  • Photometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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