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Discovery Statistics

Introduction

With over 90% of the near-Earth objects larger than one kilometer already discovered, the NEO Program is now focusing on finding 90% of the NEO population larger than 140 meters. Many of the charts and tables on these pages depend on diameters that can only be roughly inferred from an asteroid’s estimated absolute magnitude (H) and an assumed reflectivity, or albedo.

The absolute magnitude H is a measure of the asteroid’s intrinsic mean brightness, estimated from measurements of its apparent magnitudes at the various times it has been observed, at various distances from the Sun and Earth, and at various phase angles. Also, since the actual shape of the asteroid is usually unknown, it is simply assumed to be spherical.

To estimate the size of an asteroid, we must know its average reflectivity, or albedo, but this is usually unknown. For main-belt asteroids, Pravec et al. (2012) showed that there is a rough correlation between albedo and taxonomic spectral class: asteroids in the C/G/B/F/P/D spectral classes have mean albedos of about 6%, while those in the S/A/L classes have mean albedos of about 20%. But since the taxonomic class of most NEAs is unknown, we simply use an assumed mean albedo of 14% to estimate all NEA sizes. With this assumption, a one kilometer spherical NEA corresponds to an H value of 17.75. Since the estimated H values are uncertain, and likely biased by a few tenths (Pravec et al., 2012), and the single 14% albedo is only a rough mean representing a bimodal albedo distribution, the estimated numbers of objects larger than a given size in the tables below are very rough. Nonetheless, these statistics are useful for monitoring the annual NEA discovery progress.

Pravec, P., A.W. Harris, P. Kusnirak, A. Galad, K. Hornoch (2012). Absolute magnitudes of asteroids and a revision of asteroid albedo estimates from WISE thermal observations. Icarus Volume 221, Issue 1, September–October 2012, Pages 365-387, ISSN 0019-1035, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2012.07.026.