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The minor bodies of the Solar System

For many years, the Italian community has carried out cutting-edge theoretical and observational research, and has provided a key contribution in the definition of many of the paradigms that today are accepted for the interpretation of the available data for the minor bodies of the Solar System. This category of objects is large and heterogeneous, and includes objects from asteroids and comets, to trans-neptunian objects and interplanetary dust.

Theoretical and observational studies of the physical properties of asteroids. In this field one can talk or a real "Italian school". The INAF-OATo and University of Pisa groups have been pioneers in theoretical studies of collisional evolution, the main evolutionary process for the asteroid population, and they pursue studies aimed at understanding many of the collective and individual properties of the asteroids. As far as studies and data analysis that will be obtained in the near future by space activities are concerned, the NASADAWN mission, that carries an imaging spectrometer with Italian PI (INAF-IFSI), is of great importance for the Italian community. The Torino group holds an important position of responsibility for the preparation of the reduction of data that will come from the GAIA space mission, one of ESA's cornerstone missions, whose launch is planned for the end of 2011.

Dynamical studies of asteroids and comets. Italy hosts some of the most active groups, at an international level, in this field. This work, taken forward by the University of Pisa and INAF-IASF groups, includes: the dynamics of near-Earth objects (impact monitoring, calculation of the orbital elements, theory and practice of deflection and observational strategies for deep surveys), calculation of the orbital elements of the asteroids, study of the orbital evolution of comets and the study of the evolution and identification of meteoroid streams.

Study of the physical properties of comets and trans-neptunian objects. The Italian planetology community has long been a leader in the field of the physical properties of comets (INAF-IASF, INAF-OAAr, INAF-OAPd and INAF-OACn groups) and of trans-neptunian objects (INAF-OARm, INAF-OAPd). These studies involve both the development of theoretical models and observing campaigns from the ground, at ESO andthe TNG. A significant part of the Italian community is involved in the Rosetta mission, that carries two instruments with Italian PIs (the VIRTIS imaging spectrometer and the dustanalyser GIADA), and in other experiments (for example the OSIRIS camera).

Study of "space debris". The Pisa ISTI-CNR and INAF-IRA groups, pursue an important role in identifying space debris in orbit around the Earth, using mainly numerical calculations (Pisa) and VLBI radar observations (Noto).

The study of dust particles in astrophysical environments. The University of Lecce and INAF-OACn and INAF-OACt operate in synergy in the experimental study of dust particles.
The OACn group leads the MEDUSA experiment for the Exo-MARS mission. For the Rosetta mission, the OACn group leads the GIADA experiment.