Boulder exhumation and segregation by impacts on rubble-pile asteroids

J. Ormö, S.D. Raducan, M. Jutzi, M.I. Herreros, R. Luther, G.S. Collins, K. Wünnemann, M. Mora-Rueda, C. Hamann, Boulder exhumation and segregation by impacts on rubble-pile asteroids, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 594, 2022, 117713,

Small asteroids are often considered to be rubble-pile objects, and such asteroids may be the most likely type of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) to pose a threat to Earth. However, impact cratering on such bodies is complex and not yet understood. We perform three low-velocity (≈ 400 m/s) impact experiments in granular targets with and without projectile-size boulders. We conducted SPH simulations that closely reproduced the impact experiments. Our results suggest that cratering on heterogeneous targets displaces and ejects boulders, rather than fragmenting them, unless directly hit. We also see indications that as long as the energy required to disrupt the boulder is small compared to the kinetic energy of the impact, the disruption of boulders directly hit by the projectile may have minimal effect on the crater size. The presence of boulders within the target causes ejecta curtains with higher ejection angles compared to homogeneous targets. At the same time, there is a segregation of the fine ejecta from the boulders, resulting in boulders landing at larger distances than the surrounding fine grained material. However, boulders located in the target near the maximum extent of the expanding excavation cavity are merely exhumed and distributed radially around the crater rim, forming ring patterns similar to the ones observed on asteroids Itokawa, Ryugu and Bennu. Altogether, on rubble-pile asteroids this process will redistribute boulders and finer-grained material heterogeneously, both areally around the crater and vertically in the regolith. In the context of a kinetic impactor on a rubble-pile asteroid and the DART mission, our results indicate that the presence of boulders will reduce the momentum transfer compared to a homogeneous, fine-grained target.

Keywords: impact cratering; rubble-pile asteroids

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