A minor-planet moon is an astronomical object that orbits a minor planet as its natural satellite. As of February 2019, there are 352 minor planets suspected to have moons. Discoveries of minor-planet moons are important because the determination of their orbits provides estimates on the mass and density of the primary, allowing insights of their physical properties, not otherwise possible; the first modern era mention of the possibility of an asteroid satellite was in connection with an occultation of the bright star Gamma Ceti by the asteroid 6 Hebe in 1977. The observer, amateur astronomer Paul D. Maley, detected an unmistakable 0.5 second disappearance of this naked eye star from a site near Victoria, Texas. Many hours several observations were reported in Mexico attributed to the occultation by 6 Hebe itself. Although not confirmed, this documents the first formally documented case of a suspected companion of an asteroid. In addition to the terms satellite and moon, the term "binary" is sometimes used for minor planets with moons, "triple" for minor planets with two moons.
If one object is much bigger it can be referred to as the primary and its companion as secondary. The term double asteroid is sometimes used for systems in which the asteroid and its moon are the same size, while binary tends to be used independently from the relative sizes of the components; when binary minor planets are similar in size, the Minor Planet Center refers to them as "binary companions" instead of referring to the smaller body as a satellite. A good example of a true binary is the 90 Antiope system, identified in August 2000. Small satellites are referred to as moonlets. Prior to the era of the Hubble Space Telescope and space probes reaching the outer Solar System, attempts to detect satellites around asteroids were limited to optical observations from Earth. For example, in 1978, stellar occultation observations were claimed as evidence of a satellite for the asteroid 532 Herculina; however more-detailed imaging by the Hubble Telescope did not reveal a satellite, the current consensus is that Herculina does not have a significant satellite.
There were other similar reports of asteroids having companions in the following years. A letter in Sky & Telescope magazine at this time pointed to simultaneous impact craters on Earth, suggesting that these craters were caused by pairs of gravitationally bound objects. In 1993, the first asteroid moon was confirmed when the Galileo probe discovered the small Dactyl orbiting 243 Ida in the asteroid belt; the second was discovered around 45 Eugenia in 1998. In 2001, 617 Patroclus and its same-sized companion Menoetius became the first known binary asteroids in the Jupiter trojans; the first trans-Neptunian binary after Pluto–Charon, 1998 WW31, was optically resolved in 2002. Triple or trinary minor planets, are known since 2005, when the asteroid 87 Sylvia was discovered to have two satellites, making it the first known triple system; this was followed by the discovery of a second moon orbiting 45 Eugenia. In 2005, the dwarf planet Haumea was discovered to have two moons, making it the second trans-Neptunian object after Pluto known to have more than one moon.
Additionally, 216 Kleopatra and 93 Minerva were discovered to be trinary asteroids in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Since the first few triple minor planets were discovered, more continue to be discovered at a rate of about one a year. Most discovered were two moons orbiting large near-earth asteroid 3122 Florence, bringing the number of known trinary systems in the Solar System up to 14; the following table lists all satellites of triple systems chronologically by their discovery date, starting with Charon, discovered in 1978. The data about the populations of binary objects are still patchy. In addition to the inevitable observational bias the frequency appears to be different among different categories of objects. Among asteroids, an estimated 2% would have satellites. Among trans-Neptunian objects, an estimated 11% are thought to be binary or multiple objects, the majority of the large TNOs have at least one satellite, including all four IAU-listed dwarf planets. More than 50 binaries are known in each of the main groupings: near-Earth asteroids, belt asteroids, trans-Neptunian objects, not including numerous claims based on light-curve variation.
Two binaries have been found so far among centaurs with semi-major axes smaller than Neptune. Both are double ring systems around 2060 Chiron and 10199 Chariklo, discovered in 1994–2011 and 2013 respectively; the origin of minor-planet moons is not known with certainty, a variety of theories exist. A accepted theory is that minor-planet moons are formed from debris knocked off of the primary by an impact. Other pairings may be formed. Formation by collision is constrained by the angular momentum of the components, i.e. by the masses and their separation. Close binaries fit this model. Distant binaries however, with components of comparable size, are unlikely to have followed this scenario, unless considerable mass has been lost in the event; the distances of the components for the known binaries vary from a few hundreds of kilometres to more than 3000 km for the asteroids. Among TNOs, the known separations vary from 3,000 to 50,000 km. What is "typical" for a binary system tends to depend on its location in the Solar System (presumably because of different modes
Orders of magnitude (length)
The following are examples of orders of magnitude for different lengths. To help compare different orders of magnitude, the following list describes various lengths between 1.6 × 10 − 35 metres and 10 10 10 122 metres. To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths shorter than 10−23 m. 1.6 × 10−11 yoctometres – the Planck length. 1 ym – 1 yoctometre, the smallest named subdivision of the metre in the SI base unit of length, one septillionth of a metre 1 ym – length of a neutrino. 2 ym – the effective cross-section radius of 1 MeV neutrinos as measured by Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−23 metres and 10−22 metres. To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−22 m and 10−21 m. 100 ym – length of a top quark, one of the smallest known quarks To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−21 m and 10−20 m. 2 zm – length of a preon, hypothetical particles proposed as subcomponents of quarks and leptons.
2 zm – radius of effective cross section for a 20 GeV neutrino scattering off a nucleon 7 zm – radius of effective cross section for a 250 GeV neutrino scattering off a nucleon To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−20 m and 10−19 m. 15 zm – length of a high energy neutrino 30 zm – length of a bottom quark To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−19 m and 10−18 m. 177 zm – de Broglie wavelength of protons at the Large Hadron Collider To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−18 m and 10−17 m. 1 am – sensitivity of the LIGO detector for gravitational waves 1 am – upper limit for the size of quarks and electrons 1 am – upper bound of the typical size range for "fundamental strings" 1 am – length of an electron 1 am – length of an up quark 1 am – length of a down quark To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−17 m and 10−16 m. 10 am – range of the weak force To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−16 m and 10−15 m. 100 am – all lengths shorter than this distance are not confirmed in terms of size 850 am – approximate proton radius The femtometre is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to 10−15 metres.
In particle physics, this unit is more called a fermi with abbreviation "fm". To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−15 metres and 10−14 metres. 1 fm – length of a neutron 1.5 fm – diameter of the scattering cross section of an 11 MeV proton with a target proton 1.75 fm – the effective charge diameter of a proton 2.81794 fm – classical electron radius 7 fm – the radius of the effective scattering cross section for a gold nucleus scattering a 6 MeV alpha particle over 140 degrees To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−14 m and 10−13 m. 1.75 to 15 fm – Diameter range of the atomic nucleus To help compare different orders of magnitude, this section lists lengths between 10−13 m and 10−12 m. 570 fm – typical distance from the atomic nucleus of the two innermost electrons in the uranium atom, the heaviest naturally-occurring atom To help compare different orders of magnitude this section lists lengths between 10−12 and 10−11 m. 1 pm – distance between atomic nuclei in a white dwarf 2.4 pm – The Compton wavelength of the electron 5 pm – shorter X-ray wavelengths To help compare different orders of magnitude this section lists lengths between 10−11 and 10−10 m. 25 pm – approximate radius of a helium atom, the smallest neutral atom 50 pm – radius of a hydrogen atom 50 pm – bohr radius: approximate radius of a hydrogen atom ~50 pm – best resolution of a high-resolution transmission electron microscope 60 pm – radius of a carbon atom 93 pm – length of a diatomic carbon molecule To help compare different orders of magnitude this section lists lengths between 10−10 and 10−9 m. 100 pm – 1 ångström 100 pm – covalent radius of sulfur atom 120 pm – van der Waals radius of a neutral hydrogen atom 120 pm – radius of a gold atom 126 pm – covalent radius of ruthenium atom 135 pm – covalent radius of technetium atom 150 pm – Length of a typical covalent bond 153 pm – covalent radius of silver atom 155 pm – covalent radius of zirconium atom 175 pm – covalent radius of thulium atom 200 pm – highest resolution of a typical electron microscope 225 pm – covalent radius of caesium atom 280 pm – Average size of the water molecule 298 pm – radius of a caesium atom, calculated to be the largest atomic radius 340 pm – thickness of single layer graphene 356.68 pm – width of diamond unit cell 403 pm – width of lithium fluoride unit cell 500 pm – Width of protein α helix 543 pm – silicon lattice spacing 560 pm – width of sodium chloride unit cell 700 pm – width of glucose molecule 780 pm – mean width of quartz unit cell 820 pm – mean width of ice unit cell 900 pm – mean width of coesite unit cell To help compare different orders
The Jupiter trojans called Trojan asteroids or Trojans, are a large group of asteroids that share the planet Jupiter's orbit around the Sun. Relative to Jupiter, each Trojan librates around one of Jupiter's two stable Lagrange points: L4, lying 60° ahead of the planet in its orbit, L5, 60° behind. Jupiter trojans are distributed in two elongated, curved regions around these Lagrangian points with an average semi-major axis of about 5.2 AU. The first Jupiter trojan discovered, 588 Achilles, was spotted in 1906 by German astronomer Max Wolf. A total of 7,040 Jupiter trojans have been found as of October 2018. By convention, they are each named from Greek mythology after a figure of the Trojan War, hence the name "Trojan"; the total number of Jupiter trojans larger than 1 km in diameter is believed to be about 1 million equal to the number of asteroids larger than 1 km in the asteroid belt. Like main-belt asteroids, Jupiter trojans form families. Jupiter trojans are dark bodies with featureless spectra.
No firm evidence of the presence of water, or any other specific compound on their surface has been obtained, but it is thought that they are coated in tholins, organic polymers formed by the Sun's radiation. The Jupiter trojans' densities vary from 0.8 to 2.5 g·cm−3. Jupiter trojans are thought to have been captured into their orbits during the early stages of the Solar System's formation or later, during the migration of giant planets; the term "Trojan Asteroid" refers to the asteroids co-orbital with Jupiter, but the general term "trojan" is sometimes more applied to other small Solar System bodies with similar relationships to larger bodies: for example, there are both Mars trojans and Neptune trojans, as well as a recently-discovered Earth trojan. The term "Trojan asteroid" is understood to mean the Jupiter trojans because the first Trojans were discovered near Jupiter's orbit and Jupiter has by far the most known Trojans. In 1772, Italian-born mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange, in studying the restricted three-body problem, predicted that a small body sharing an orbit with a planet but lying 60° ahead or behind it will be trapped near these points.
The trapped body will librate around the point of equilibrium in a tadpole or horseshoe orbit. These leading and trailing points are called the L5 Lagrange points; the first asteroids trapped in Lagrange points were observed more than a century after Lagrange's hypothesis. Those associated with Jupiter were the first to be discovered. E. E. Barnard made the first recorded observation of a trojan, 1999 RM11, in 1904, but neither he nor others appreciated its significance at the time. Barnard believed he had seen the discovered Saturnian satellite Phoebe, only two arc-minutes away in the sky at the time, or an asteroid; the object's identity was not understood until its orbit was calculated in 1999. The first accepted discovery of a trojan occurred in February 1906, when astronomer Max Wolf of Heidelberg-Königstuhl State Observatory discovered an asteroid at the L4 Lagrangian point of the Sun–Jupiter system named 588 Achilles. In 1906–1907 two more Jupiter trojans were found by fellow German astronomer August Kopff.
Hektor, like Achilles, belonged to the L4 swarm, whereas Patroclus was the first asteroid known to reside at the L5 Lagrangian point. By 1938, 11 Jupiter trojans had been detected; this number increased to 14 only in 1961. As instruments improved, the rate of discovery grew rapidly: by January 2000, a total of 257 had been discovered; as of October 2018 there are 4,601 known Jupiter trojans at L4 and 2,439 at L5. The custom of naming all asteroids in Jupiter's L4 and L5 points after famous heroes of the Trojan War was suggested by Johann Palisa of Vienna, the first to calculate their orbits. Asteroids in the leading orbit are named after Greek heroes, those at the trailing orbit are named after the heroes of Troy; the asteroids 617 Patroclus and 624 Hektor were named before the Greece/Troy rule was devised, resulting in a Greek spy in the Trojan node and a Trojan spy in the Greek node. Estimates of the total number of Jupiter trojans are based on deep surveys of limited areas of the sky; the L4 swarm is believed to hold between 160–240,000 asteroids with diameters larger than 2 km and about 600,000 with diameters larger than 1 km.
If the L5 swarm contains a comparable number of objects, there are more than 1 million Jupiter trojans 1 km in size or larger. For the objects brighter than absolute magnitude 9.0 the population is complete. These numbers are similar to that of comparable asteroids in the asteroid belt; the total mass of the Jupiter trojans is estimated at 0.0001 of the mass of Earth or one-fifth of the mass of the asteroid belt. Two more recent studies indicate that the above numbers may overestimate the number of Jupiter trojans by several-fold; this overestimate is caused by the assumption that all Jupiter trojans have a low albedo of about 0.04, whereas small bodies may have an average albedo as high as 0.12. According to the new estimates, the total number of Jupiter trojans with a diameter larger than 2 km is 6,300 ± 1,000 and 3,400 ± 500 in the L4 and L5 swarms, respectively; these numbers would be reduced by a factor of 2 if small Jupiter trojans are more reflective than large ones. The number of Jupiter trojans observed in the L4
Asteroids are minor planets of the inner Solar System. Larger asteroids have been called planetoids; these terms have been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not resemble a planet-like disc and was not observed to have characteristics of an active comet such as a tail. As minor planets in the outer Solar System were discovered they were found to have volatile-rich surfaces similar to comets; as a result, they were distinguished from objects found in the main asteroid belt. In this article, the term "asteroid" refers to the minor planets of the inner Solar System including those co-orbital with Jupiter. There exist millions of asteroids, many thought to be the shattered remnants of planetesimals, bodies within the young Sun's solar nebula that never grew large enough to become planets; the vast majority of known asteroids orbit within the main asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, or are co-orbital with Jupiter. However, other orbital families exist with significant populations, including the near-Earth objects.
Individual asteroids are classified by their characteristic spectra, with the majority falling into three main groups: C-type, M-type, S-type. These were named after and are identified with carbon-rich and silicate compositions, respectively; the sizes of asteroids varies greatly. Asteroids are differentiated from meteoroids. In the case of comets, the difference is one of composition: while asteroids are composed of mineral and rock, comets are composed of dust and ice. Furthermore, asteroids formed closer to the sun; the difference between asteroids and meteoroids is one of size: meteoroids have a diameter of one meter or less, whereas asteroids have a diameter of greater than one meter. Meteoroids can be composed of either cometary or asteroidal materials. Only one asteroid, 4 Vesta, which has a reflective surface, is visible to the naked eye, this only in dark skies when it is favorably positioned. Small asteroids passing close to Earth may be visible to the naked eye for a short time; as of October 2017, the Minor Planet Center had data on 745,000 objects in the inner and outer Solar System, of which 504,000 had enough information to be given numbered designations.
The United Nations declared 30 June as International Asteroid Day to educate the public about asteroids. The date of International Asteroid Day commemorates the anniversary of the Tunguska asteroid impact over Siberia, Russian Federation, on 30 June 1908. In April 2018, the B612 Foundation reported "It's 100 percent certain we'll be hit, but we're not 100 percent sure when." In 2018, physicist Stephen Hawking, in his final book Brief Answers to the Big Questions, considered an asteroid collision to be the biggest threat to the planet. In June 2018, the US National Science and Technology Council warned that America is unprepared for an asteroid impact event, has developed and released the "National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy Action Plan" to better prepare. According to expert testimony in the United States Congress in 2013, NASA would require at least five years of preparation before a mission to intercept an asteroid could be launched; the first asteroid to be discovered, was considered to be a new planet.
This was followed by the discovery of other similar bodies, with the equipment of the time, appeared to be points of light, like stars, showing little or no planetary disc, though distinguishable from stars due to their apparent motions. This prompted the astronomer Sir William Herschel to propose the term "asteroid", coined in Greek as ἀστεροειδής, or asteroeidēs, meaning'star-like, star-shaped', derived from the Ancient Greek ἀστήρ astēr'star, planet'. In the early second half of the nineteenth century, the terms "asteroid" and "planet" were still used interchangeably. Overview of discovery timeline: 10 by 1849 1 Ceres, 1801 2 Pallas – 1802 3 Juno – 1804 4 Vesta – 1807 5 Astraea – 1845 in 1846, planet Neptune was discovered 6 Hebe – July 1847 7 Iris – August 1847 8 Flora – October 1847 9 Metis – 25 April 1848 10 Hygiea – 12 April 1849 tenth asteroid discovered 100 asteroids by 1868 1,000 by 1921 10,000 by 1989 100,000 by 2005 ~700,000 by 2015 Asteroid discovery methods have improved over the past two centuries.
In the last years of the 18th century, Baron Franz Xaver von Zach organized a group of 24 astronomers to search the sky for the missing planet predicted at about 2.8 AU from the Sun by the Titius-Bode law because of the discovery, by Sir William Herschel in 1781, of the planet Uranus at the distance predicted by the law. This task required that hand-drawn sky charts be prepared for all stars in the zodiacal band down to an agreed-upon limit of faintness. On subsequent nights, the sky would be charted again and any moving object would be spotted; the expected motion of the missing planet was about 30 seconds of arc per hour discernible by observers. The first object, was not discovered by a member of the group, but rather by accident in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi, director of the observatory of Palermo in Sicily, he discovered a new star-like object in Taurus and followed the displacement of this object during several nights. That year, Carl Friedrich Gauss used these observations to calculate the orbit of this unknown object, found to be between the planets Mars and Jupiter.
Piazzi named it after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. Three other asteroids (2 Pallas, 3 Juno, 4 Ves
857 Glasenappia is a minor planet orbiting the Sun. It was named after Russian astronomer Sergey Glazenap, referred to as "S. de Glasenapp" in pre-Revolution publications. 857 Glasenappia at AstDyS-2, Asteroids—Dynamic Site Ephemeris · Observation prediction · Orbital info · Proper elements · Observational info 857 Glasenappia at the JPL Small-Body Database Close approach · Discovery · Ephemeris · Orbit diagram · Orbital elements · Physical parameters
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, with internal convective motion that generates a magnetic field via a dynamo process, it is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 1.39 million kilometers, or 109 times that of Earth, its mass is about 330,000 times that of Earth. It accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. Three quarters of the Sun's mass consists of hydrogen; the Sun is a G-type main-sequence star based on its spectral class. As such, it is informally and not accurately referred to as a yellow dwarf, it formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of matter within a region of a large molecular cloud. Most of this matter gathered in the center, whereas the rest flattened into an orbiting disk that became the Solar System; the central mass became so hot and dense that it initiated nuclear fusion in its core. It is thought that all stars form by this process.
The Sun is middle-aged. It fuses about 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium every second, converting 4 million tons of matter into energy every second as a result; this energy, which can take between 10,000 and 170,000 years to escape from its core, is the source of the Sun's light and heat. In about 5 billion years, when hydrogen fusion in its core has diminished to the point at which the Sun is no longer in hydrostatic equilibrium, its core will undergo a marked increase in density and temperature while its outer layers expand to become a red giant, it is calculated that the Sun will become sufficiently large to engulf the current orbits of Mercury and Venus, render Earth uninhabitable. After this, it will shed its outer layers and become a dense type of cooling star known as a white dwarf, no longer produce energy by fusion, but still glow and give off heat from its previous fusion; the enormous effect of the Sun on Earth has been recognized since prehistoric times, the Sun has been regarded by some cultures as a deity.
The synodic rotation of Earth and its orbit around the Sun are the basis of solar calendars, one of, the predominant calendar in use today. The English proper name Sun may be related to south. Cognates to English sun appear in other Germanic languages, including Old Frisian sunne, Old Saxon sunna, Middle Dutch sonne, modern Dutch zon, Old High German sunna, modern German Sonne, Old Norse sunna, Gothic sunnō. All Germanic terms for the Sun stem from Proto-Germanic *sunnōn; the Latin name for the Sun, Sol, is not used in everyday English. Sol is used by planetary astronomers to refer to the duration of a solar day on another planet, such as Mars; the related word solar is the usual adjectival term used for the Sun, in terms such as solar day, solar eclipse, Solar System. A mean Earth solar day is 24 hours, whereas a mean Martian'sol' is 24 hours, 39 minutes, 35.244 seconds. The English weekday name Sunday stems from Old English and is a result of a Germanic interpretation of Latin dies solis, itself a translation of the Greek ἡμέρα ἡλίου.
The Sun is a G-type main-sequence star. The Sun has an absolute magnitude of +4.83, estimated to be brighter than about 85% of the stars in the Milky Way, most of which are red dwarfs. The Sun is heavy-element-rich, star; the formation of the Sun may have been triggered by shockwaves from more nearby supernovae. This is suggested by a high abundance of heavy elements in the Solar System, such as gold and uranium, relative to the abundances of these elements in so-called Population II, heavy-element-poor, stars; the heavy elements could most plausibly have been produced by endothermic nuclear reactions during a supernova, or by transmutation through neutron absorption within a massive second-generation star. The Sun is by far the brightest object in the Earth's sky, with an apparent magnitude of −26.74. This is about 13 billion times brighter than the next brightest star, which has an apparent magnitude of −1.46. The mean distance of the Sun's center to Earth's center is 1 astronomical unit, though the distance varies as Earth moves from perihelion in January to aphelion in July.
At this average distance, light travels from the Sun's horizon to Earth's horizon in about 8 minutes and 19 seconds, while light from the closest points of the Sun and Earth takes about two seconds less. The energy of this sunlight supports all life on Earth by photosynthesis, drives Earth's climate and weather; the Sun does not have a definite boundary, but its density decreases exponentially with increasing height above the photosphere. For the purpose of measurement, the Sun's radius is considered to be the distance from its center to the edge of the photosphere, the apparent visible surface of the Sun. By this measure, the Sun is a near-perfect sphere with an oblateness estimated at about 9 millionths, which means that its polar diameter differs from its equatorial diameter by only 10 kilometres; the tidal effect of the planets is weak and does not affect the shape of the Sun. The Sun rotates faster at its equator than at its poles; this differential rotation is caused by convective motion
An asteroid family is a population of asteroids that share similar proper orbital elements, such as semimajor axis and orbital inclination. The members of the families are thought to be fragments of past asteroid collisions. An asteroid family is a more specific term than asteroid group whose members, while sharing some broad orbital characteristics, may be otherwise unrelated to each other. Large prominent families contain several hundred recognized asteroids. Small, compact families may have only about ten identified members. About 33% to 35% of asteroids in the main belt are family members. There are about 20 to 30 reliably recognized families, with several tens of less certain groupings. Most asteroid families are found in the main asteroid belt, although several family-like groups such as the Pallas family, Hungaria family, the Phocaea family lie at smaller semi-major axis or larger inclination than the main belt. One family has been identified associated with the dwarf planet Haumea; some studies have tried to find evidence of collisional families among the trojan asteroids, but at present the evidence is inconclusive.
The families are thought to form as a result of collisions between asteroids. In many or most cases the parent body was shattered, but there are several families which resulted from a large cratering event which did not disrupt the parent body; such cratering families consist of a single large body and a swarm of asteroids that are much smaller. Some families have complex internal structures which are not satisfactorily explained at the moment, but may be due to several collisions in the same region at different times. Due to the method of origin, all the members have matching compositions for most families. Notable exceptions are those families. Asteroid families are thought to have lifetimes of the order of a billion years, depending on various factors; this is shorter than the Solar System's age, so few if any are relics of the early Solar System. Decay of families occurs both because of slow dissipation of the orbits due to perturbations from Jupiter or other large bodies, because of collisions between asteroids which grind them down to small bodies.
Such small asteroids become subject to perturbations such as the Yarkovsky effect that can push them towards orbital resonances with Jupiter over time. Once there, they are rapidly ejected from the asteroid belt. Tentative age estimates have been obtained for some families, ranging from hundreds of millions of years to less than several million years as for the compact Karin family. Old families are thought to contain few small members, this is the basis of the age determinations, it is supposed that many old families have lost all the smaller and medium-sized members, leaving only a few of the largest intact. A suggested example of such old family remains are 113 Amalthea pair. Further evidence for a large number of past families comes from analysis of chemical ratios in iron meteorites; these show that there must have once been at least 50 to 100 parent bodies large enough to be differentiated, that have since been shattered to expose their cores and produce the actual meteorites. When the orbital elements of main belt asteroids are plotted, a number of distinct concentrations are seen against the rather uniform distribution of non-family background asteroids.
These concentrations are the asteroid families. Interlopers are asteroids classified as family members based on their so-called proper orbital elements but having spectroscopic properties distinct from the bulk of the family, suggesting that they, contrary to the true family members, did not originate from the same parent body that once fragmented upon a collisional impact. Speaking and their membership are identified by analysing the proper orbital elements rather than the current osculating orbital elements, which fluctuate on timescales of tens of thousands of years; the proper elements are related constants of motion that remain constant for times of at least tens of millions of years, longer. The Japanese astronomer Kiyotsugu Hirayama pioneered the estimation of proper elements for asteroids, first identified several of the most prominent families in 1918. In his honor, asteroid families are sometimes called Hirayama families; this applies to the five prominent groupings discovered by him.
Present day computer-assisted searches have identified more than a hundred asteroid families. The most prominent algorithms have been the hierarchical clustering method, which looks for groupings with small nearest-neighbour distances in orbital element space, wavelet analysis, which builds a density-of-asteroids map in orbital element space, looks for density peaks; the boundaries of the families are somewhat vague because at the edges they blend into the background density of asteroids in the main belt. For this reason the number of members among discovered asteroids is only known and membership is uncertain for asteroids near the edges. Additionally, some interlopers from the heterogeneous background asteroid population are expected in the central regions of a family. Since the true family members caused by the collision are expected to have similar compositions, most such interlopers can in principle be recognised by spectral properties which do not matc