Purdue University Graduate School
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Meteoroid and ejecta modeling with KFIX

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posted on 2024-04-04, 16:44 authored by Michael A CarlsonMichael A Carlson

Here we present two studies of different aspects of meteoritic impacts. The first study is about the behavior of ejecta plumes after a hypervelocity impact onto a body with an atmosphere. The second study looks at the effect vaporization has on meteoroids as they descend through Earth's atmosphere, specifically the effect permeability and meteor size have on the vaporization during their explosive fragmentation.

Atmospheres play an important role in ejecta deposition after an impact event. Many impact experiments and simulations neglect the effect of atmospheres. In the first study, we simulate ejecta plumes created by craters with transient diameters of 2 km and 20 km on Mars and Earth to show the difference atmospheric density and crater size have on the strength of the interaction. The interaction of ejecta with an atmosphere is explored in this study using a two-fluid hydrocode that simultaneously simulates ejecta and atmospheres as coupled, continuum fields to correctly capture the transfer of mass, energy, and momentum between the two. Here we study the effect of vaporization of plume material as well as the effect of the bow shock. We find that only the fastest ejecta is vaporized with a peak vaporized mass of 2.5x105 kg, 3.5 s after the impact in our 2 km diameter Terrestrial crater. Terrestrial meteorites are preferentially formed from the fastest ejecta. However, that fastest ejecta is mostly vaporized in our simulations, so to form a Terrestrial meteorite there must be a sufficiently large impact for solid material to be ejected and not vaporize. Thus, we place a lower limit of 33 km on the size of crater needed to generate terrestrial meteorites, but the crater size needed could be substantially larger. The bow shocks in our simulations result in lofting of ejecta, especially vaporized material, in the wake of the impactor. We find that Mars' thin atmosphere slows the ejecta but does not significantly change the trajectory of the plume. Earth's atmosphere can stop and entrain ejecta particles to suspend heated material long after the majority of material has already been deposited, resulting in 4x1010 kg of material being suspended in the atmosphere 100 seconds after the impact for a 2 km diameter crater. For larger craters, we find that Earth's atmosphere has a more limited effect and ejecta more closely follows a ballistic trajectory.

The 1908 Tunguska bolide event and the 2013 Chelyabinsk bolide event underscore the potential damage posed by relatively small meteoroids as compared to the dinosaur-killing Chicxulub meteoroid. In this study, we model Tunguska- and Chelyabinsk-sized bolide events, extending the work of Tabetah and Melosh (2018) by exploring a larger parameter space and introducing the novel feature of material vaporization. Building upon their findings that the porosity and permeability of a meteoroid significantly influence fragmentation, we investigate additional factors such as meteoroid size, entry speed, and entry angle. Furthermore, we demonstrate that vaporization plays a crucial role, lowering the fragmentation height by extracting energy through latent heat. We find that a larger meteoroid size or higher entry speed increases the amount of vaporization that occurs while lowering the altitude of disruption of the meteoroid, and that a shallower entry angle decreases the amount of vaporization and increases the altitude of disruption. Our study not only refines the understanding of bolide events but also introduces a novel perspective with potential implications for planetary science and impact risk assessment.



National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Physics and Astronomy

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Brandon Johnson

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Marc Caffee

Additional Committee Member 2

Maxim Lyutikov

Additional Committee Member 3

Rafael Lang

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