Volatile retention from cometary impacts on the Moon

Lissa Ong, Erik I. Asphaug, Donald Korycansky, Robert F. Coker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Impacts of comets and asteroids play an important role in volatile delivery on the Moon. We use a novel method for tracking vapor masses that reach escape velocity in hydrocode simulations of cometary impacts to explore the effects of volatile retention. We model impacts on the Moon to find the mass of vapor plume gravitationally trapped on the Moon as a function of impact velocity. We apply this result to the impactor velocity distribution and find that the total impactor mass retained on the Moon is approximately 6.5% of the impactor mass flux. Making reasonable assumptions about water content of comets and the comet size-frequency distribution, we derive a water flux for the Moon. After accounting for migration and stability of water ice at the poles, we estimate a total 1.3×108-. 4.3×109metric tons of water is delivered to the Moon and remains stable at the poles over 1. Ga. A factor of 30 uncertainty in the estimated cometary impact flux is primarily responsible for this large range of values. The calculated mass of water is sufficient to account for the neutron fluxes poleward of 75° observed by Lunar Prospector. A similar analysis for water delivery to the Moon via asteroid impacts shows that asteroids provide six times more water mass via impacts than comets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)578-589
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Asteroids
  • Comets
  • Ices
  • Impact processes
  • Moon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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