Volume 633, January 2020
|Number of page(s)
|Celestial mechanics and astrometry
|09 January 2020
Asteroid mass estimation with the robust adaptive Metropolis algorithm
Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, PO Box 64, 00014 Helsinki, Finland
2 Nordic Optical Telescope, Apartado 474, 38700 S/C de La Palma, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
3 Division of Space Technology, Luleå University of Technology, Kiruna Box 848, 98128, Sweden
Accepted: 12 November 2019
Context. The bulk density of an asteroid informs us about its interior structure and composition. To constrain the bulk density, one needs an estimated mass of the asteroid. The mass is estimated by analyzing an asteroid’s gravitational interaction with another object, such as another asteroid during a close encounter. An estimate for the mass has typically been obtained with linearized least-squares methods, despite the fact that this family of methods is not able to properly describe non-Gaussian parameter distributions. In addition, the uncertainties reported for asteroid masses in the literature are sometimes inconsistent with each other and are suspected to be unrealistically low.
Aims. We aim to present a Markov-chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithm for the asteroid mass estimation problem based on asteroid-asteroid close encounters. We verify that our algorithm works correctly by applying it to synthetic data sets. We use astrometry available through the Minor Planet Center to estimate masses for a select few example cases and compare our results with results reported in the literature.
Methods. Our mass-estimation method is based on the robust adaptive Metropolis algorithm that has been implemented into the OpenOrb asteroid orbit computation software. Our method has the built-in capability to analyze multiple perturbing asteroids and test asteroids simultaneously.
Results. We find that our mass estimates for the synthetic data sets are fully consistent with the ground truth. The nominal masses for real example cases typically agree with the literature but tend to have greater uncertainties than what is reported in recent literature. Possible reasons for this include different astrometric data sets and weights, different test asteroids, different force models or different algorithms. For (16) Psyche, the target of NASA’s Psyche mission, our maximum likelihood mass is approximately 55% of what is reported in the literature. Such a low mass would imply that the bulk density is significantly lower than previously expected and thus disagrees with the theory of (16) Psyche being the metallic core of a protoplanet. We do, however, note that masses reported in recent literature remain within our 3-sigma limits.
Results. The new MCMC mass-estimation algorithm performs as expected, but a rigorous comparison with results from a least-squares algorithm with the exact same data set remains to be done. The matters of uncertainties in comparison with other algorithms and correlations of observations also warrant further investigation.
Key words: minor planets / asteroids: general / celestial mechanics / methods: numerical
© ESO 2020
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