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Atmospheric erosion by giant impacts onto terrestrial planets : a scaling law for any speed, angle, mass, and density.

Kegerreis, J. A. and Eke, V. R. and Catling, D. C. and Massey, R. J. and Teodoro, L. F. A. and Zahnle, K. J. (2020) 'Atmospheric erosion by giant impacts onto terrestrial planets : a scaling law for any speed, angle, mass, and density.', Astrophysical journal., 901 (2). L31.


We present a new scaling law to predict the loss of atmosphere from planetary collisions for any speed, angle, impactor mass, target mass, and body composition, in the regime of giant impacts onto broadly terrestrial planets with relatively thin atmospheres. To this end, we examine the erosion caused by a wide range of impacts, using 3D smoothed particle hydrodynamics simulations with sufficiently high resolution to directly model the fate of low-mass atmospheres around 1% of the target's mass. Different collision scenarios lead to extremely different behaviors and consequences for the planets. In spite of this complexity, the fraction of lost atmosphere is fitted well by a power law. Scaling is independent of the system mass for a constant impactor mass ratio. Slow atmosphere-hosting impactors can also deliver a significant mass of atmosphere, but always accompanied by larger proportions of their mantle and core. Different Moon-forming impact hypotheses suggest that around 10%–60% of a primordial atmosphere could have been removed directly, depending on the scenario. We find no evident departure from the scaling trends at the extremes of the parameters explored. The scaling law can be incorporated readily into models of planet formation.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© 2020. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.
Date accepted:25 August 2020
Date deposited:09 October 2020
Date of first online publication:30 September 2020
Date first made open access:09 October 2020

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