Monday, January 4, 2016

How Common are Thea-like Impacts on Terrestrial Worlds?

Giant Impacts on Earth-like Worlds


Quintana et al


The late stages of terrestrial planet formation are dominated by giant impacts that collectively influence the growth, dynamical stability, composition and habitability of any planets that form. Hitherto, numerical models designed to explore these late stage collisions have been limited in two major ways. First, nearly all N-body models have assumed that two-body collisions lead to perfect accretion. Second, many of these studies lack the large number of realizations needed to account for the chaotic nature of these N-body systems. In this article we perform hundreds of simulations of late stage terrestrial planet formation using an N-body algorithm that includes fragmentation and hit-and-run collisions. We performed 140 simulations of planet accretion around a Sun-like star with Jupiter and Saturn analogs with and without this new collision model. We find that when fragmentation is included, the final planets formed are similar to those formed in the perfect-accretion model in terms of mass and number, however the paths towards building these planets are significantly different. Over 90% of the fragmentation simulations produced an Earth-analog and we parameterized the impacts onto these planets in terms of their specific impact energies. Only 15 of our 164 Earth-analogs experienced an impact that was energetic enough to strip an entire atmosphere. To strip about half of an atmosphere requires energies comparable to the Moon-forming giant impact, and almost all Earth-analogs received at least one impact that met this criteria and received on average 3.0 of these giant impacts during the 2 Gyr simulations. The median time of the final giant impact was 43 Myr after the start of the simulations, leading us to conclude that the time-frame of the Moon-forming impact is typical amongst planetary systems around Sun-like stars.

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