Atmospheric Erosion by Giant Impacts Onto Terrestrial Planets

©NASA

Impact event

We examine the mechanisms by which atmosphere can be eroded by giant impacts onto Earth-like planets with thin atmospheres, using 3D smoothed particle hydrodynamics simulations with sufficient resolution to directly model the fate of low-mass atmospheres for the first time.

We present a simple scaling law to estimate the fraction lost for any impact angle and speed in this regime. In the canonical Moon-forming impact, only around 10% of the atmosphere would have been lost from the immediate effects of the collision. There is a gradual transition from removing almost none to almost all of the atmosphere for a grazing impact as it becomes more head-on or increases in speed, including complex, non-monotonic behaviour at low impact angles. In contrast, for head-on impacts, a slightly greater speed can suddenly remove much more atmosphere.

Our results broadly agree with the application of 1D models of local atmosphere loss to the ground speeds measured directly from our simulations. However, previous analytical models of shock-wave propagation from an idealised point-mass impact significantly underestimate the ground speeds and hence the total erosion. The strong dependence on impact angle and the interplay of multiple non-linear and asymmetrical loss mechanisms highlight the need for 3D simulations in order to make realistic predictions.

J. A. Kegerreis, V. R. Eke, R. J. Massey, L. F. A. Teodoro
(Submitted on 7 Feb 2020)

Comments: 17 pages, 13 figures, submitted to ApJ
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:2002.02977 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2002.02977v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Jacob Kegerreis
[v1] Fri, 7 Feb 2020 19:00:15 UTC (4,905 KB)
https://arxiv.org/abs/2002.02977
Astrobiology

Please follow Astrobiology on Twitter.


  • submit to reddit