Thermal model calibration for minor planets observed with Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer/Neowise

A. Mainzer, T. Grav, J. Masiero, J. Bauer, E. Wright, R. M. Cutri, R. S. McMillan, M. Cohen, M. Ressler, P. Eisenhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


With the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), we have observed over 157,000 minor planets. Included in these are a number of near-Earth objects, main-belt asteroids, and irregular satellites which have well measured physical properties (via radar studies and in situ imaging) such as diameters. We have used these objects to validate models of thermal emission and reflected sunlight using the WISE measurements, as well as the color corrections derived in Wright et al. for the four WISE bandpasses as a function of effective temperature. We have used 50 objects with diameters measured by radar or in situ imaging to characterize the systematic errors implicit in using the WISE data with a faceted spherical near-Earth asteroid thermal model (NEATM) to compute diameters and albedos. By using the previously measured diameters and H magnitudes with a spherical NEATM model, we compute the predicted fluxes (after applying the color corrections given in Wright et al.) in each of the four WISE bands and compare them to the measured magnitudes. We find minimum systematic flux errors of 5%-10%, and hence minimum relative diameter and albedo errors of ∼10% and ∼20%, respectively. Additionally, visible albedos for the objects are computed and compared to the albedos at 3.4 μm and 4.6 μm, which contain a combination of reflected sunlight and thermal emission for most minor planets observed by WISE. Finally, we derive a linear relationship between subsolar temperature and effective temperature, which allows the color corrections given in Wright et al. to be used for minor planets by computing only subsolar temperature instead of a faceted thermophysical model. The thermal models derived in this paper are not intended to supplant previous measurements made using radar or spacecraft imaging; rather, we have used them to characterize the errors that should be expected when computing diameters and albedos of minor planets observed by WISE using a spherical NEATM model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2011


  • catalogs
  • minor planets, asteroids: general
  • surveys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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