When Worlds Collide

P. H. Schultz (Brown University)

Although considerable attention has been paid to the catastrophic fragmentation of small planetary bodies following hypervelocity collisions, laboratory experiments at the NASA Ames Vertical Gun Range allow documenting the fate of the impactor. Of particular interest is the effect of oblique impacts on curved planetary surfaces, i.e., when the size of the impactor approaches 20% of the size of the target. Such experiments reveal that the shock created at first contact disrupts and decouples the impactor before it penetrates the target for 5-6 km/s impact velocities. This process has five important consequences. First, relatively large impactor fragments can survive the collision with minimal damage (5-6 largest sizes = 10% of the impactor mass). Moreover, surface curvature ensures escape of larger impactor debris exhibiting a wide range of shocked states. Second, these fragments follow different trajectories depending on their style of failure (spallation or shear) and provenance (their location in the impactor). Third, a low impedance veneer (regolith) reduces the degree of impactor fragmentation. Fourth, the process significantly decreases the energy (peak pressure) in the target and allows its survival even for collisions with large specific energies. Nevertheless, significant residual mafic melts result through frictional heating. And fifth, nominal oblique trajectories (30) become equivalent to much lower angle events (< 10) as the impactor:target ratio approaches 1:4. This process can be scaled (to first order) to asteroid-size events and could provide a mechanism to produce different meteor streams and asteroid families from a single event while leaving behind an intact but mafic scar on the parent body.