Characterising Asteroid Spin and Surface Properties using Small-Aperture Telescopes

Jackson, Samuel Lee (2023). Characterising Asteroid Spin and Surface Properties using Small-Aperture Telescopes. PhD thesis The Open University.



In this thesis, the scientific potential of small-aperture telescopes within the field of asteroid science is explored. To achieve this, the PIRATE facility (an autonomous small-aperture telescope) was used to observe a sample of near-Earth asteroids over a two-year observing campaign. Targets were selected that would allow a wide range of phase angles to be covered in order to enable characterisation of their phase curves.

A range of technical optimisations are outlined, enabling routine collection of high quality data while minimising time lost due to unsuitable conditions or technical faults. An investigation into the calibration frames taken by PIRATE allowed for data reduction processes to be improved to minimise sources of noise that may impact the photometric data. Data collection processes were implemented that allow for efficient scheduling of asteroid observations, avoiding the common pitfalls when observing moving targets. A new photometric pipeline was written for observations of asteroids taken with PIRATE, along with a set of data analysis processes designed to enable spin-state modelling and phase curve extraction. The phase curves and supporting photometric data are used to provide new constraints on physical properties of the observed targets where possible.

A study into biases present in asteroid phase curves due to changing viewing aspect is presented. This study shows that phase curve models fit to the data may not be single-valued when observing non-spherical asteroids over complicated viewing geometries or over multiple apparitions. The potential impacts that this may have on the interpretability of phase curve data are discussed, including the potential impact on the data presented in this thesis.

Small-aperture telescopes are shown to be highly capable in enabling the collection and characterisation of asteroid light curves and phase curves. PIRATE is demonstrated to produce good quality data which is consistent with data produced independently from larger telescopes.

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