Asteroids, asteroid spectroscopy, asteroid composition, near infrared spectroscopy, mid infrared spectroscopy, asteroid organics, hydrated minerals, silicates, primitive asteroids


We investigate the spectra of asteroids at near- and mid-infrared wavelengths. In 2010 and 2011 we reported the detection of 3 ?m and 3.2-3.6 ?m signatures on (24) Themis and (65) Cybele indicative of water-ice and complex organics [1] [2] [3]. We further probed other primitive asteroids in the Cybele dynamical group and Themis family, finding diversity in the shape of their 3 ?m [4] [5] [6] and 10 ?m spectral features [4]. These differences indicated mineralogical and compositional variations within these asteroid populations. Also in the mid-infrared region we studied a larger population of asteroids belonging to the Bus C, D, and S taxanomic classes to understand the relationship between any mineralogy and hydration inferred in the visible and near- infrared with the shape, strength, and slope of the 10 ?m emission. We have discovered that at least 3 of the main Bus taxanomic groups (Cs, Ds, and Ss as defined by their visible spectra) clearly cluster into 3 statistically distinct groups based on their 8-13 ?m spectra. Additionally we have attempted to simulate in a laboratory the possible organic compounds we have detected on two asteroids, using various mixtures containing aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons. We find that asteroid (24) Themis and (65) Cybele have ?CH2/?CH3 and NCH2/NCH3 ratios similar to our 3- methylpentane, propane, and hexane residues, suggesting that the organics on these asteroids may be short chained and/or highly branched. The ?CH2/?CH3 and NCH2/NCH3 for asteroid(24)Themis are most consistent with the DISM, and some carbonaceous chondrites. The band centers of the C-H stretch absorptions indicate that both asteroids may have aliphatic carriers chemically bonded to electronegative groups (i.e. aromatics), and some that are not. We also detect a 3.45 ?m feature in the spectra of both asteroids that is present in several dense molecular clouds. Our results suggest an interstellar origin for the organics on (24) Themis, and likely (65) Cybele. The differences in the organics of Themis and Cybele are likely related to variations in thermal processing, irradiation and/or formation region in the solar nebula.


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Graduation Date





Colwell, Joshua


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Physics; Planetary Sciences








Release Date

May 2016

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)