Erosion and ejecta reaccretion on 243 Ida and its moon

Paul Geissler, Jean Marc Petit, Daniel D. Durda, Richard J. Greenberg, William Bottke, Michael Nolan, Jeffrey Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

153 Scopus citations


Galileo images of Asteroid 243 Ida and its satellite Dactyl show surfaces which are dominantly shaped by impact cratering. A number of observations suggest that ejecta from hypervelocity impacts on Ida can be distributed far and wide across the Ida system, following trajectories substantially affected by the low gravity, nonspherical shape, and rapid rotation of the asteroid. We explore the processes of reaccretion and escape of ejecta on Ida and Dactyl using three-dimensional numerical simulations which allow us to compare the theoretical effects of orbital dynamics with observations of surface morphology. The effects of rotation, launch location, and initial launch speed are first examined for the case of an ideal triaxial ellipsoid with Ida's approximate shape and density. Ejecta launched at low speeds (V ≪ Vesc) reimpact near the source craters, forming well-defined ejecta blankets which are asymmetric in morphology between leading and trailing rotational surfaces. The net effect of cratering at low ejecta launch velocities is to produce a thick regolith which is evenly distributed across the surface of the asteroid. In contrast, no clearly defined ejecta blankets are formed when ejecta is launched at higher initial velocities (V ∼ Vesc). Most of the ejecta escapes, while that which is retained is preferentially derived from the rotational trailing surfaces. These particles spend a significant time in temporary orbit around the asteroid, in comparison to the asteroid's rotation period, and tend to be swept up onto rotational leading surfaces upon reimpact. The net effect of impact cratering with high ejecta launch velocities is to produce a thinner and less uniform soil cover, with concentrations on the asteroids' rotational leading surfaces. Using a realistic model for the shape of Ida (P. Thomas, J. Veverka, B. Carcich, M. J. S. Belton, R. Sullivan, and M. Davies 1996, Icarus 120, 000-000), we find that an extensive color/albedo unit which dominates the northern and western hemispheres of the asteroid can be explained as the result of reaccretion of impact ejecta from the large and evidently recent crater "Azzurra." Initial ejection speeds required to match the color observations are on the order of a few meters per second, consistent with models (e.g., M. C. Nolan, E. Asphaug, H. J. Melosh, and R. Greenberg 1996, Icarus, submitted; E. Asphaug, J. Moore, D. Morrison, W. Benz, and R. Sullivan 1996, Icarus 120, 158-184) that multikilometer craters on Ida form in the gravity-dominated regime and are net producers of locally retained regolith. Azzurra ejecta launched in the direction of rotation at speeds near 10 m/sec are lofted over the asteroid and swept up onto the rotational leading surface on the opposite side. The landing locations of these particles closely match the distribution of large ejecta blocks observed in high resolution images of Ida (P. Lee, J. Veverka, P. Thomas, P. Helfstein, M. J. S. Belton, C. Chapman, R. Greeley, R. Pappalardo, R. Sullivan, and J. W. Head 1996, Icarus 120, 87-105). Ida's shape and rotation allow escape of ejecta launched at speeds far below the escape velocity of a nonrotating sphere of Ida's volume and presumed density. While little ejecta from Ida is captured by Dactyl, about half of the mass ejected from Dactyl at speeds of up to 20 m/sec eventually falls on Ida. Particles launched at speeds just barely exceeding Dactyl's escape velocity can enter relatively long-term orbit around Ida, but few are ultimately reaccreted by the satellite. Because of its low gravity, erosion of Dactyl would take place on exceedingly short time scales if unconsolidated materials compose the satellite and crater formation is in the gravity regime. If Dactyl is a solid rock, then its shape has evolved from a presumably irregular initial fragment to its present remarkably rounded figure by collision with a population of impactors too small to be detected by counting visible craters. As the smallest solar system object yet imaged by a spacecraft, the morphology of Dactyl is an important clue to the asteroid population at the smallest sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)140-157
Number of pages18
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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