A Caltech Library Service

Impact cratering: The effect of crustal strength and planetary gravity

O'Keefe, John D. and Ahrens, Thomas J. (1981) Impact cratering: The effect of crustal strength and planetary gravity. Reviews of Geophysics, 19 (1). pp. 1-12. ISSN 8755-1209. doi:10.1029/RG019i001p00001.

PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Upon impact of a meteorite with a planetary surface the resulting shock wave both ‘processes’ the material in the vicinity of the impact and sets a larger volume of material than was subjected to high pressure into motion. Most of the volume which is excavated by the impact leaves the crater after the shock wave has decayed. The kinetic energy which has been deposited in the planetary surface is converted into reversible and irreversible work, carried out against the planetary gravity field and against the strength of the impacted material, respectively. By using the results of compressible flow calculations prescribing the initial stages of the impact interaction (obtained with finite difference techniques) the final stages of cratering flow along the symmetry axis are described, using the incompressible flow formalism proposed by Maxwell. The fundamental assumption in this description is that the amplitude of the particle velocity field decreases with time as kinetic energy is converted into heat and gravitational potential energy. At a given time in a spherical coordinate system the radial velocity is proportional to R^(−z), where R is the radius (normalized by projectile velocity) and z is a constant shape factor for the duration of flow and a weak function of angle. The azimuthal velocity, as well as the streamlines, is prescribed by the incompressibility condition. The final crater depth (for fixed strength Y) is found to be proportional to R_0[2(z + 1)u_(or)²/g]^(1/(z+1)), where u_(or) is the initial radial particle velocity at (projectile normalized) radius R_0, g is planetary gravity, and z (which varied from 2 to 3) is the shape factor. The final crater depth (for fixed gravity) is also found to be proportional to [ρu_(or)^2/Yz]^(1/(z+1)), where ρ and Y are planetary density and yield strength, respectively. By using a Mohr-Coulomb yield criterion the effect of varying strength on transient crater depth and on crater formation time in the gravity field of the moon is investigated for 5-km/s impactors with radii in the 10- to 10^7-cm range. Comparison of crater formation time and maximum transient crater depth as a function of gravity yields dependencies proportional to g^(−0.58) and g^(−0.19), respectively, compared to g^(−0.618) and g^(−0.165) observed by Gault and Wedekind for hypervelocity impact craters in the 16- to 26-cm-diameter range in a quartz sand (with Mohr-Coulomb type behavior) carried out over an effective gravity range of 72–980 cm/s².

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Additional Information:Copyright © 1981 by the American Geophysical Union. (Received September 1, 1979; revised July 1, 1980; accepted July 21, 1980.) Paper number 80R1189. We are grateful for both the help and the access to unpublished materials so generously proffered by D. E. Maxwell of Science Applications, Incorporated. The final manuscript has benefited from the rigorous reviews of R. Schmidt of the Boeing Company and H. Moore of the USGS. Technical discussions with B. Minster and J. Melosh and computational assistance by M. Lainhart are also appreciated. The research was supported under NASA grant NSG 7129. Contribution 3300, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Other Numbering System:
Other Numbering System NameOther Numbering System ID
Caltech Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences3300
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20141104-143322617
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:O’Keefe, J. D., and T. J. Ahrens (1981), Impact cratering: The effect of crustal strength and planetary gravity, Rev. Geophys., 19(1), 1–12, doi:10.1029/RG019i001p00001.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:51250
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:04 Nov 2014 22:54
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 19:08

Repository Staff Only: item control page