Purdue University Graduate School
Sean_E_Wiggins_Dissertation_for_PhD.pdf (17.24 MB)

Impact Fragmentation

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posted on 2022-10-13, 19:08 authored by Sean Evan WigginsSean Evan Wiggins

While hypervelocity impacts are ubiquitous throughout the solar system and have received decades  of  research,  the dynamic  fragmentation that  occurs  during an impact has received relatively little attention. This is made more troublesome by the fact that, by volume, more material in the target is altered by the tensile stresses of the rarefaction wave that relieves the pressure of the shock wave, compared to the amount excavated by the impact itself. This tensionally affected material  can  include  Grady-Kippfragments,  fragments  of  material  that  were  broken  apart according to a dynamic fragmentation model developed by Grady and Kipp in 1980. By using their model and inserting it into the Eulerian hydrocode iSALE, we have been able to examine the role tensile stressesand dynamic fragmentation play in hypervelocity impacts. We started by finding the limits on Grady-Kipp fragmentation on an already well studied surface, the Moon. We found that fragment sizes are weakly dependent on impactor size and impact velocity. For impactors 1 km in diameter or smaller, a hemispherical zone centered on the point of impact contains meter‐scale fragments. For an impactor 1 km in diameter this zone extends to depths of 20 km. At larger impactor  sizes,  overburden  pressure  inhibits  fragmentation  and  only  a  near‐surface  zone  is fragmented. For a 10‐km‐diameter impactor, this surface zone extends to a depthof ~20 km and lateral distances ~300 km from the point of impact. This suggests that impactors from 1 to 10 km in diameter can efficiently fragment the entire lunar crust to depths of ~20 km, implying that much of the modern day megaregolith can be created by single impacts rather than by multiple large impact events.

With the extent of in-situ fragmentation examined we turned ourattention to getting our dynamic fragmentation code to run smoothly with iSALE’s PorTens. PorTens is a change made to iSALE to allow for pore space creation in material undergoing tensile stresses and pressures in order to keep thermodynamic consistency. Importantly, wefound that when the two routines are combined, porosity increases substantially, and that the large basins currently observed on the Moon’s surface are likely most responsible for the high porosity detected by the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. Additionally, we discovered that deep lying porosity seems to be additive, suggesting that even without the influence of the largest impactors it is possible for porosity to increase over time. The final, and possibly most consequential conclusion from this work is the ability of tensile stresses and pressures can create potential sitesof refugia for early life that may have existed on early Earth or possibly Mars.

Our final dive into hypervelocity impacts focuses on modeling fragments of ejecta. To study this, we have restructured the original fragmentation code substantially. Because most of the damage occurring in the ejecta is done in shear, our previously used Grady-Kipp implementation is not able to provide any useful data, without first making some necessary changes. Much of shear stresses occurring during the passage of a shockwave is accommodated by ductile deformation. Thus, we allow tensile damage to accumulate independently of any calculated shear damage. This simple assumption allows us to track fragment size within ejecta curtains.We then present the results of fragment size vs velocity for different sized impactors.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Brandon C. Johnson

Additional Committee Member 2

Marissa Tremblay

Additional Committee Member 3

Andrew 'Andy' Freed

Additional Committee Member 4

David Minton