Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The YORP Effect

Since asteroids are basically just witless hunks of ice and rock, you'd think they'd live pretty boring, solitary lives. But you'd be wrong.

They pair up frequently, and become binary asteroids co-orbiting a central point. Sometimes they form threesomes. Woo-hoo! Sometimes they have tiny moons, tagging along after them. This picture is of Ida and Dactyl, an asteroid and its moon, but has always reminded me of a mother and child.

I love this picture. Dactyl is the little one.

Others hang around together in groups, often hitching rides in the LaGrangian points of planets (where the gravitational influences all balance out). i imagine them smoking cigarettes, whistling at girls, and trying to scrape up enough money for a six pack.

They also, improbably, begin to spin in the same direction, at the same speed, or specific resonances of that speed (it's called the YORP effect, named after the initials of the guys who figured it out). This has always struck me as particularly weird, that unrelated asteroids would mimic each other's orbital behavior. Apparently it has something to do with the pressure of sunlight on the surfaces of the asteroids, so that like sailboats on a lake, they'll all react similarly to the solar wind. But i like to think of it as a complex dance. It heartens me to realize that the universe rarely allows things to work alone as independent operators, whether those things be space rocks or ants or humans. I don't wanna say that randomness doesn't exist. Randomness is all. But from randomness spring unexpected patterns, complex structures, and hopelessly entangled relationships.

We are never, ever alone.

Even when we wanna be.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

Your knowledge of all this really makes me want to read that novel of yours.

Also, odd coincidence: Rocket Man just started playing on my iTunes.

Nancy Dancehall said...

Clowncar IS Rocket Man.

What have you planted so far? I can't get anything going up here because its so derned cold.

Jo said...

That was a fun romp, you write so beautifully about space & relationships.

I love randomness, but I think it's mostly a consequence of all that we don't know.

Mona Buonanotte said...

YORP must be related to that group-yawn effect. Or when you're talking to someone with your arms folded and then they fold their arms the same way. We're all like warm little planets, spinning around each other....

Irrelephant said...

*s* I have to say I love both your AND Mona's observations re: people as planetary bodies. There is something nicely fitting to know that all those bits of rocks are out there dancing around, slowly waltzing through the silence.

Hilary said...

I've never known anyone to attribute personalities to asteroids before. You just made space a whole lot more personal.

Sarah Sometimes said...

this is indeed oddly comforting....

Clowncar said...

Thanks E, for the interest in the book. I'll try to excerpt it someday. There's some stuff in there about the life and death of stars I really like. There's also a really good ghost story set in a motel.

Nance, we have peppers, tomatoes, basil, beans, and various flowers you'd need to ask l-hux about. I'm told they're xeric, aword I didn't even know til she used it last weekend. I guess that's why she's Dr. Hux.

Thanks, Jo. I try not to be overly anthropomorphic, but I think lots of aspects of our everyday life are mirrored by what;s gong on above us.

Mona, you nailed it exactly. You're in a movie theater by yourself, you cough, 20 other people do so as well. We're all entangled.

"Waltzing through the silence." Wonderful phrase, Irr.

Hill, I think what I'm actually trying to do is turn an utter terror of a random universe into a comforting notion. Not sure if I'm succeeding.

I'm glad you are comforted, Sarah. Personally, I waver between comfort and total, screaming terror (see the above). Thanks for stopping by! Hope to see you again.