The Variation of Planetary Surfaces' Structure and Size Distribution with Depth

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Constantinos A Charalambous and William T Pike, Imperial College London, London, SW7, United Kingdom
The particle, rock and boulder size distribution of a planetary surface bring important implications not only to crucial aspects of future missions but also to the better understanding of planetary and earth sciences. By exploiting a novel statistical model, the evolution of particle fragmentation phenomena can be understood in terms of a descriptive maturity index, a measure of the number of fragmentation events that have produced the soil. This statistical model, which is mathematically constructed via fundamental physical principles, has been validated by terrestrial mineral grinding data and impact experiments.

Applying the model to planetary surfaces, the number of fragmentation events is determined by production function curves that quantify the degree of impact cratering. The model quantifies the variation of the maturity index of the regolith with depth, with a high maturity index at the surface decreasing to a low index corresponding to the megaregolith of a blocky population and fractured bedrock. The measured lunar and martian particle size distributions at the surface is well matched by the model over several orders of magnitude. The continuous transition invoked by the model can be furthermore synthesised to provide temporal and spatial visualisations of the internal architecture of the Martian and Lunar regolith.

Finally, the model is applied to the risk assessment and success criteria of future mission landings as well as drilling on planetary surfaces. The solutions to a variety of planetary fragmentation related problems can be found via exact mathematical foundations or through simulations using the particle population provided by the model’s maturation.