Karin Cluster

The Karin Cluster is a family of 13 asteroids that appears to have originated in a single asteroid disruption event just 5.8 million years ago; it is named after the largest member, 18-kilometer-long 832 Karin. The relative youth and known age of the Karin Cluster promises to shed light on several important questions about asteroid geology and impact physics. Data from this breakup could be used to validate computer simulations that show the effects of large bodies colliding at high speed. The Karin cluster could also help in our understanding of space weathering. The impacts of energetic particles from the Sun, along with micrometeorite impacts, over time have changed the optical properties of asteroid surfaces. This makes it difficult to identify the kinds of asteroids that produce particular types of stony meteorite such as ordinary chondrites. Because objects in the Karin Cluster are young and their formation age is known, further study of their surface properties could give vital clues about the nature and rate at which space weathering alters their surface features. The known age of the Karin Cluster members also could help explain the rate at which asteroids strike one another in the main belt. Because the Karin Cluster asteroids were given blank slates 5.8 million years ago, impact craters formed since that time could be used to estimate the current crater production rate in the main belt. This information could help researchers determine surface ages of asteroids visited by spacecraft. It is also possible that some of the meteorites arriving on Earth today could be traced back to this breakup event. If a firm connection can be made between this event and some class of meteorites found on Earth, laboratory studies of these meteorites could be used to learn more about the nature of asteroids in the Karin Cluster. Results from these studies would be the next best thing to a sample return mission.