Fr.: effet Yarkovski
A phenomenon that causes a slow variation of the orbital elements of asteroids and meteoroids. It takes place because the surface thermal conductivity of these bodies is not negligible and the rotation of the body about its axis shifts the warmest region from midday to the object's afternoon hemisphere. Consequently the temperature distribution is asymmetric with respect to the Sun direction, and the momentum carried off by the photons emitted in the infrared has a net component along the orbital velocity of the asteroid. This causes a decrease or increase of its orbital energy depending on whether the rotation is prograde or retrograde. The bodies therefore spiral either sunward or outward. The secular drift of the semi-major axis of the orbit is estimated to be of the order of 10-4 A.U. per million years for a → near-Earth object with a diameter of 1 km. The effect is unimportant for bodies larger than a few km because of their very large mass per unit area (106 g cm-2 or more) and is especially unimportant for comets that spend little time under intense illumination close to the Sun. Compare with the → Poynting-Robertson effect, which is isotropic. See also → YORP effect.
Named after Ivan Osipovich Yarkovsky (1844-1902), a Russian-Polish civil engineer. Yarkovsky knew nothing of photons and based his reasoning on the → ether concept, but his idea survives the translation to modern physics; → effect.