Tools for Advanced Dynamical Characterization of Solar System Small Bodies

NASA Planetary Data Archiving, Restoration, and Tools Program

Start Date: 07/26/2023
Project #: 1945
End Date: 07/25/2025
Award #: 80NSSC23K0886

Non PSI Personnel: Renu Malhotra (Co-I, University of Arizona), Darin Ragozzine (Co-I, Brigham Young University), Dallin Spencer (Graduate Student, Brigham Young University)

Project Description

The Vera Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey in Space and Time (LSST) will bring us into a new era of small solar system body science by increasing the number of known objects by more than an order of magnitude. Dynamical analyses of small bodies have led to many important insights in planetary science. The dynamical evolution of an observed small body’s orbit can place it into context as, for example, a likely primordial small body whose orbit has remained largely unchanged since formation (like the New Horizon’s target Arrokoth); similarly, dynamical evolution marked by rapid changes can indicate an object belongs to a short-lived, transient class of objects such as the giant-planet crossing Centaur population. Calculation of proper orbital elements can reveal groupings of objects, such as collisional families. Identification of objects in mean motion resonances (MMRs) can help test models of the solar system’s early dynamical history. The community needs user-friendly, accessible tools for dynamical analyses to fully exploit the upcoming quantity and quality of small body observations and enable transformative scientific progress in many areas of planetary science.

We are developing a well-documented, open-source Python package, the Small Body Dynamics Tool (SBDynT), that takes a small body orbit (from observed or modeled populations), performs dynamical integrations of its orbital evolution, calculates a variety of dynamical parameters, and outputs dynamical characterizations and classifications. Example planned outputs of SBDynT include proper orbital elements, chaos indicators, whether an object is in a planetary mean motion resonance, dynamical classification according to commonly used schemes, dynamical lifetime estimates, and characterization of orbital changes over different timescales, including past orbital history.

The project is on GitHub here: