Animation of 100,000 Asteroids

Asteroids can be identified in SDSS imaging because they change position during the course of an 8-minute exposure with the SDSS camera. The SDSS has identified and measured colors of more than 100,000 asteroids and other Solar System minor objects. The video to the left shows the orbits of many of the asteroids that the SDSS has discovered. SDSS asteroid measurements are available online through the SDSS Moving Object Catalog.

SDSS asteroid studies demonstrated a marked change in the size distribution of main belt asteroids at a diameter of about 5 km, implying fewer small asteroids than previously believed. They also showed that families of asteroids with distinct orbital properties also have distinctive colors, revealing the importance of “space weathering” that changes the surface appearance of asteroids over time. Dynamical families appear to be the result of collisions in the asteroid belt that produce cascades of smaller bodies, exposing fresh material that was previously the interior of a larger body.

Most SDSS asteroids are in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, but repeat imaging has also enabled the SDSS to discover objects in the outer Solar System, near or beyond the orbit of Neptune. One of these, the remarkable object 2006 SQ 372, is on a highly eccentric orbit that takes it to a distance of 800 AU (800 times the Earth-Sun distance). Modeling suggests that it has been dynamically scattered from the inner zone of the Oort Cloud, a cloud of distant cometary bodies that is a remnant of the Solar System’s formation.

Painted Stone: Asteroids in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, by Alex Parker

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This animation shows the orbital motions of over 100,000 of the asteroids observed by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), with colors illustrating the compositional diversity measured by the SDSS five-color camera. The relative sizes of each asteroid are also illustrated.

All main-belt asteroids and Trojan asteroids with orbits known to high precision are shown. The animation is rendered with a timestep of 3 days.
The compositional gradient of the asteroid belt is clearly visible, with green Vesta-family members in the inner belt fading through the blue C-class asteroids in the outer belt, and the deep red Trojan swarms beyond that.

Occasional diagonal slashes that appear in the animation are the SDSS survey beams; these appear because the animation is rendered at near the survey epoch.

The average orbital distances of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter are illustrated with rings.

Colors represented with the same scheme as Parker et al. (2008):­iv:0807.3762

Concept and rendering by Alex H. Parker:

Funding for the creation and distribution of the SDSS Archive has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Japanese Monbukagakusho, and the Max Planck Society. The SDSS Web site is

The SDSS is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC) for the Participating Institutions. The Participating Institutions are The University of Chicago, Fermilab, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Japan Participation Group, The Johns Hopkins University, the Korean Scientist Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics (MPA), New Mexico State University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Portsmouth, Princeton University, the United States Naval Observatory, and the University of Washington.

Music: Tamxr by LJ Kruzer (

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