Research at UCLA

UCLA scientists study asteroids using a variety of methods and techniques. Researchers in the Radar Astronomy Group, headed by Professor Jean-Luc Margot, study the 10,000+ asteroids that orbit in close proximity to Earth, known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).  By using radar telescopes, such as the ground-based Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, or NASA’s WISE/NEOWISE Space Telescope (PI: Professor Edward (Ned) Wright), scientists detect NEOs and then attempt to characterize their orbits, shapes, densities, compositions and thermal properties. Through their work they hope to mitigate impact hazards like the February 15, 2013 impact that occurred in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

NEOs make up only a minute fraction of asteroids in the solar system.  Hundreds of thousands of asteroids are known to exist in the solar system’s main asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter.  Professor Christopher Russell is the principal investigator of NASA’s Dawn mission, a spacecraft sent to explore two of the largest main-belt asteroids, Vesta and Ceres.

Asteroids are also found very far out in the solar system and are commonly called Trans-Neptunian objects.  These include the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt, which was first detected by UCLA Professor, Dave Jewitt.  Knowing the distribution of these objects is helpful in modeling their orbital dynamics and in piecing together the history of the early solar system.

Other scientists use small pieces of asteroids which make it to Earth to understand the chemistry of these objects, which tells scientists something about the makeup of the early solar system.  Read more about this line of research on the meteorites page.  By observing the spectra of distant white dwarf stars, other researchers determine the composition of asteroids in other star systems.  Read more about this line of research on the circumstellar matter page.


jewitt margot russell wright
David Jewitt Jean-Luc Margot Christopher Russell Edward (Ned) Wright

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Recent Publications

Argarwal, J., Jewitt, D., and Weaver, H. (2013). Dynamics of Large Fragments in the Tail of Active Asteroid P/2010 A2. The Astrophysical Journal, 769(1), 46.

Jewitt, D. (2013). Properties of Near-Sun Asteroids. The Astronomical Journal, 145, 133.

Jewitt, D., Ishiguro, M., and Agarwal, J. (2013). Large Particles in Active Asteroid P/2010 A2. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 764(1), L5.

Jewitt, D., Li, J., and Agarwal, J. (2013). The dust tail of asteroid (3200) Phaethon. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 771(1), L36.

Li, J. and Jewitt, J. (2013). Recurrent Perihelion Activity in (3200) Phaethon. The Astronomical Journal, 145(6), 154.

Newman, W.I., (2013). Rotational kinematics and torques for triaxial bodies. Icarus, 223(1), p. 615-618.