Velocity Distributions among Colliding Asteroids

William F. Bottke, Michael C. Nolan, Richard J. Greenberg, Robert A. Kolvoord

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

315 Scopus citations


The probability distribution for impact velocities between two given asteroids is wide, non-Gaussian, and often contains spikes according to our new method of analysis in which each possible orbital geometry for collision is weighted according to its probability. An average value would give a good representation only if the distribution were smooth and narrow. Therefore, the complete velocity distribution we obtain for various asteroid populations differs significantly from published histograms of average velocities. For all pairs among the 682 asteroids in the main-belt with D > 50 km, we find that our computed velocity distribution is much wider than previously computed histograms of average velocities. In this case, the most probable impact velocity is ∼4.4 km/sec, compared with the mean impact velocity of 5.3 km/sec. For cases of a single asteroid (e.g., Gaspra or Ida) relative to an impacting population, the distribution we find yields lower velocities than previously reported by others. The width of these velocity distributions implies that mean impact velocities must be used with caution when calculating asteroid collisional lifetimes or crater-size distributions. Since the most probable impact velocities are lower than the mean, disruption events may occur less frequently than previously estimated. However, this disruption rate may be balanced somewhat by an apparent increase in the frequency of high-velocity impacts between asteroids. These results have implications for issues such as asteroidal disruption rates, the amount/type of impact ejecta available for meteoritical delivery to the Earth, and the geology and evolution of specific asteroids like Gaspra.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-268
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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