Asteroids are the remnants of planet formation, and as such, they represent a record of the physical and chemical conditions in the early solar system and its evolution over the past 4.6 billion years. Asteroids are relatively accessible by spacecraft, and thus may be a source of the raw materials necessary for future human exploration and settlement of space. Those on Earth-crossing orbits pose impact hazards for which mitigation strategies must be developed. For these reasons, several missions to asteroids are in progress or planned with the support of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other national space agencies. The study of asteroid composition and physical surface properties is vital to both our scientific understanding of the solar system's formation and evolution and to the development of asteroid missions and resource utilization schemes. This dissertation uses infrared spectroscopy to investigate the composition and physical properties of main-belt asteroid surfaces. Our efforts are focused on two populations that are especially relevant to constraining thermal and collisional processes in the asteroid belt: the "M-type" asteroids and primitive asteroid families. To investigate volatiles in the M-type asteroids, we obtained 2-4 micron spectra of six M-type asteroids using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility. We find spectral signatures of hydrated minerals on all six asteroids, with evidence for rotational variability of hydration in one target. Diversity in the shape of the 3-micron feature in our sampled asteroids suggests there are different modes of hydration in the M-type population. Next, we carried out a thermal and compositional study of M-type asteroid (16) Psyche using 5-14 micron spectra from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Psyche is suspected to be a remnant iron core, and it is the target of an upcoming NASA mission. Using thermophysical modeling, we find that Psyche's surface is smooth and most likely has a thermal inertia of 5-25 J/m^2/K/s^(1/2), and a bolometric emissivity of 0.9, although a scenario with an emissivity of 0.7 and thermal inertia up to 95 J/m^2/K/s^(1/2) is possible if Psyche is somewhat larger than previously determined. From comparisons with laboratory spectra of silicate and meteorite powders, Psyche's emissivity spectrum is consistent with the presence of fine-grained ( < 75 micron) silicates. These silicates may include a magnesian pyroxene component. We conclude that Psyche is likely covered in a fine silicate regolith, which may also contain iron grains, overlying an iron-rich bedrock. Finally, we compared the mid-infrared properties of two primitive asteroids families, ancient Themis (~2.5 Gyr) and young Veritas (~8 Myr). Visible and near-infrared studies show spectral differences between the two families attributed to different degrees of space weathering. To test whether these differences are apparent in the mid-infrared, we analyzed the 5-14 micron Spitzer Space Telescope spectra of 11 Themis-family asteroids and 9 Veritas-family asteroids. We detect a broad 10-micron emission feature, attributed to fine-grained and/or porous silicate regolith, in all 11 Themis-family spectra and six of nine Veritas-family asteroids, with 10-micron spectral contrast ranging from 1% +/- 0.1% to 8.5% +/- 0.9%. Comparison with laboratory spectra of primitive meteorites suggests these asteroids are similar to meteorites with relatively low abundances of phyllosilicates. We used thermal modeling to derive diameters, beaming parameters and albedos for our sample. Asteroids in both families have beaming parameters near unity and geometric albedos in the range 0.031-0.14. Spectral contrast of the 10-micron silicate emission feature is not correlated with asteroid diameter; however, higher 10-micron contrast may be associated with flatter spectral slopes in the near-infrared. There is a slight trend of increasing 10-micron contrast with decreasing albedo in the Veritas asteroids, but not the Themis asteroids. Overall, our results indicate the Themis and Veritas family members show variation in regolith texture and/or structure within both families that is not directly related to family age.


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Graduation Date





Campins, Humberto


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Physics; Planetary Sciences









Release Date

February 2018

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)