Transfer, loss and physical processing of water in hit-and-run collisions of planetary embryos [EPA]

Collisions between large, similar-sized bodies are believed to shape the final characteristics and composition of terrestrial planets. Their inventories of volatiles such as water, are either delivered or at least significantly modified by such events. Besides the transition from accretion to erosion with increasing impact velocity, similar-sized collisions can also result in hit-and-run outcomes for sufficiently oblique impact angles and large enough projectile-to-target mass ratios. We study volatile transfer and loss focusing on hit-and-run encounters by means of Smooth Particle Hydrodynamics simulations, including all main parameters: impact velocity, impact angle, mass ratio, and also the total colliding mass. We find a broad range of overall water losses, up to 75% in the most energetic hit-and-run events, and confirm the much more severe consequences for the smaller body also for stripping of volatile layers. Transfer of water between projectile and target inventories is found to be mostly rather inefficient, and final water contents are dominated by pre-collision inventories reduced by impact losses, for similar pre-collision water mass fractions. Comparison with our numerical results shows that current collision outcome models are not accurate enough to reliably predict these composition changes in hit-and-run events. To also account for non-mechanical losses we estimate the amount of collisionally vaporized water over a broad range of masses, and find that these contributions are particularly important in collisions of ~Mars-sized bodies, with sufficiently high impact energies, but still relatively low gravity. Our results clearly indicate that the cumulative effect of several (hit-and-run) collisions can efficiently strip protoplanets of their volatile layers, especially the smaller body, as it might be common e.g. for Earth-mass planets in systems with Super-Earths.

Read this paper on arXiv…

C. Burger, T. Maindl and C. Schafer
Wed, 11 Oct 17

Comments: Accepted for publication in Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy – Special Issue on Close Approaches and Collisions in Planetary Systems, 30 pages, 10 figures