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Asteroid mass estimation based on mutual encounters

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Title: Asteroid mass estimation based on mutual encounters
Author(s): Siltala, Lauri
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Department of Physics
Discipline: Astronomy
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2016
Estimates for asteroid masses are based on gravitational perturbations on the orbits of other objects such as Mars, spacecraft, or other asteroids and/or their satellites. In the case of asteroid-asteroid perturbations, this leads to a 13-dimensional inverse problem where the aim is to derive the mass of the perturbing asteroid and six orbital elements for both the perturbing asteroid and the test asteroid using astrometric observations. We have developed and implemented three different mass estimation algorithms utilizing asteroid-asteroid perturbations into the OpenOrb asteroid-orbit-computation software: the very rough 'marching' approximation, in which the asteroid orbits are fixed at a given epoch, reducing the problem to a one-dimensional estimation of the mass, an implementation of the Nelder-Mead simplex method, and most significantly, a Markov-Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) approach. We introduce each of these algorithms with particular focus on the MCMC algorithm, and present example results for both synthetic and real data. Our results agree with the published mass estimates, but suggest that the published uncertainties may be misleading as a consequence of using linearized mass-estimation methods. Finally, we discuss remaining challenges with the algorithms as well as future plans.

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