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Cometary and meteorite swarm impact on planetary surfaces

O'Keefe, John D. and Ahrens, Thomas J. (1982) Cometary and meteorite swarm impact on planetary surfaces. Journal of Geophysical Research B, 87 (B8). pp. 6668-6680. ISSN 0148-0227.

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The velocity flow fields, energy partitioning, and ejecta distributions resulting from impact of porous (fragmented) icy cometary nuclei with silicate planetary surfaces at speeds from 5 to 45 km/s are different than those resulting from the impact of solid ice or silicate meteorites. The impact of 1 g/cm^3 ice spheres onto an atmosphereless anorthosite planetary surface induces cratering flows that appear similar to those induced by normal density anorthosite meteorite impact. Both of these impactors lead to deep transient crater cavities for final crater diameters less than ∼1 to ∼10 km and for escape velocities ≲10^5 cm/s. Moreover the fraction of internal energy partitioned into the planetary surface at the cratering site is 0.6 for both ice and anorthosite impactors at 15 km/s. As the assumed density of the hypothetical cometary nucleus or fragment cloud from a nucleus decreases to 0.01 g/cm^3, the fraction of the impact energy partitioned into planetary surface internal energy decreases to less than 0.01, and the flow field displays a toroidal behavior in which the apparent source of the flow appears to emanate from a disc or ringlike region rather than from a single point, as in the explosive cratering case. The edges of the crater region are in several cases depressed and flow downward, whereas the center of the crater region is uplifted. Moreover, the resultant postimpact particle velocity flow in some cases indicates the formation of concentric ridges, a central peak, and a distinct absence of a deep transient cavity. In contrast, transient cavities are a ubiquitous feature of nearly all previous hypervelocity impact calculations. The calculations of the flow fields for low density (0.01 g/cm^3) impactors exhibited surface interface (comet-planet) instabilities. These are attributed to both the Rayleigh-Taylor and Helmholtz instability conditions, and we believe that these occur in all flows involving volatile low-density (0.01 g/cm^3) projectiles. It is speculated that these hydrodynamic instabilities can give rise to concentric rings in the inner crater region in large-scale impacts on planetary surfaces, although other mechanisms for their production may also act. The ejecta mass loss versus planetary escape velocity was computed, and these results imply that the critical escape velocity, at which as much material is lost as is being accreted from a planet, ranges from 1.2 to 2.75 km/s for encounter speeds of 5 to 15 kms/s, with cometary impactors having a density of 0.01 to 1 g/cm^3. These values compare to 0.83 and 1.5 km/s for silicate impactors, thereby indicating that it is more difficult for volatiles than silicates to be accreted onto objects with escape velocities similar to the Moon, Mercury, and Mars. For objects with escape velocities in the 0.1 to 1 km/s range the accretional efficiency for silicate and various porosity ices are similar, whereas for objects with escape velocities <0.1 km/s the accretional efficiency of icy impactors becomes significantly lower than for silicate impactors.

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Additional Information:Copyright 1982 by the American Geophysical Union. (Received October 25, 1980; revised June 2, 1981; accepted July 31, 1981.) Paper number 1B1249. We appreciate the assistance of J. Peter Watt in constructing an equation of state of water and the contribution of David Jewitt in suggesting bounds on cometary properties and helpful comments during the course of this work and on the final manuscript proferred by David Stevenson. Reviews of the paper by Peter H. Schultz and William B. McKinnon were most helpful. The continued computational assistance of M. Lainhart and the support of NASA (NSG 7129) is appreciated. Contribution 3491, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125.
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Caltech Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences3491
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Official Citation:O'Keefe, J. D., and T. J. Ahrens (1982), Cometary and meteorite swarm impact on planetary surfaces, J. Geophys. Res., 87(B8), 6668–6680, doi:10.1029/JB087iB08p06668.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:51196
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:03 Nov 2014 23:38
Last Modified:03 Nov 2014 23:38

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