Volume 641, September 2020
|Number of page(s)||22|
|Section||Planets and planetary systems|
|Published online||01 September 2020|
Discrete element modeling of boulder and cliff morphologies on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Institute of Physics and Astronomy, University of Potsdam,
2 Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Rutherfordstr. 2, 12489 Berlin, Germany
Accepted: 10 July 2020
Context. Even after the Rosetta mission, some of the mechanical parameters of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s surface material are not yet well constrained. These parameters are needed to improve our understanding of cometary activity or for planning sample return missions.
Aims. We study some of the physical processes involved in the formation of selected surface features and investigate the mechanical and geometrical parameters involved.
Methods. Applying the discrete element method (DEM) in a low-gravity environment, we numerically simulated the surface layer particle dynamics involved in the formation of selected morphological features. The material considered is a mixture of polydisperse ice and dust spheres with inter-particle forces given by the Hertz contact model, translational friction, rolling friction, cohesion from unsintered contacts, and optionally due to bonds from ice sintering. We determined a working set of parameters that enables the simulations to be reasonably realistic and investigated morphological changes due to modifications thereof.
Results. The selected morphological features are reasonably well reproduced using model materials with a tensile strength on the order of 1–10 Pa. Increasing the diameters of the spherical particles decreases the material strength, and increasing the friction leads to a more brittle but somewhat stronger material. High friction is required to make the material sufficiently brittle to match observations, which points to the presence of very rough, even angular particles. Reasonable seismic activity does not suffice to trigger the collapses of cliffs without material heterogeneities or structural defects.
Conclusions. DEM modeling can be a powerful tool to investigate mechanical parameters of cometary surface material. However, many uncertainties arise from our limited understanding of particle shapes, spatial configurations, and size distributions, all on multiple length scales. Further numerical work, in situ measurements, and sample return missions are needed to better understand the mechanics of cometary material and cometary activity.
Key words: comets: general / comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko / methods: numerical
© ESO 2020
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