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Impact Generation of Holes in the Early Lunar Crust: Scaling Relations

Alan P. Jackson, Viranga Perera, Travis S.J. Gabriel
Journal PaperIcarus, Volume 394, article id. 115445, April 2023


After its formation, the Moon is widely believed to have possessed a deep, global magma ocean. As it cooled, an anorthositic crust formed, floating atop this magma ocean and acting as an insulating blanket. As well as forming the Moon, the Moon-forming giant impact also released more than a lunar mass of debris into heliocentric orbit. Reimpacting debris subjected the newly formed Moon to an extremely intense bombardment. We have conducted a suite of impact simulations for a range of conditions representative of this early period. We find that impact outcomes can be divided into four regimes and construct scaling relations for the transitions between these regimes and size of impact features. Exposure of liquid magma to the surface is generally more efficient than previously assumed, implying significant shortening of the solidification time of the Lunar Magma Ocean. Comparison with work on icy satellites also suggests that penetration of a solid crust overlying liquid is a relatively universal process with weak dependence on target material properties.

Mercury's formation within the early instability scenario

Matthew S. Clement, John E. Chambers, Nathan A. Kaib, Sean N. Raymond, Alan P. Jackson
Journal PaperIcarus, Volume 394, article id. 115445, April 2023


The inner solar system's modern orbital architecture provides inferences into the epoch of terrestrial planet formation; a ∼100 Myr time period of planet growth via collisions with planetesimals and other proto-planets. While classic numerical simulations of this scenario adequately reproduced the correct number of terrestrial worlds, their semi-major axes and approximate formation timescales, they struggled to replicate the Earth-Mars and Venus-Mercury mass ratios (∼9 and 15, respectively). In a series of past independent investigations, we demonstrated that Mars' mass is possibly the result of Jupiter and Saturn's early orbital evolution, while Mercury's diminutive size might be the consequence of a primordial mass deficit in the region (potentially the result of the growing Earth's early outward migration). Here, we combine these ideas in a single modeled scenario designed to simultaneously reproduce the formation of all four terrestrial planets and the modern orbits of the giant planets in broad strokes. By evaluating our Mercury analogs' core mass fractions, masses, and orbital offsets from Venus, we favor a scenario where Mercury forms through a series of violent erosive collisions between a number of ∼Mercury-mass embryos in the inner part of the terrestrial disk. We also compare cases where the gas giants begin the simulation locked in a compact 3:2 resonant configuration to a more relaxed 2:1 orientation and find the former to be more successful. In 2:1 cases, the entire Mercury-forming region is often depleted due to strong sweeping secular resonances that also tend to overly excite the orbits of Earth and Venus as they grow. While our model is quite successful at replicating Mercury's massive core and dynamically isolated orbit, the planets' low mass remains extremely challenging to match. Indeed, the majority of our Mercury analogs have masses that are 2-4 times that of the real planet. Finally, we discuss the merits and drawbacks of alternative evolutionary scenarios and initial disk conditions (specifically a narrow annulus of material between 0.7-1.0 au). We argue that the results of our N-body accretion models are not sufficient to break degeneracies between these different models, and implore future studies to apply further cosmochemical and dynamical constraints on terrestrial planet formation models.

The Frequency of 'Oumuamua-Like Interstellar Objects

S.J. Desch, A.P. Jackson
Conference AbstractAAS Division of Planetary Science meeting #54, id. 304.05. Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, Vol. 54, No. 8 e-id 2022n8i304p05, December 2022


All observed features of the first interstellar object, 'Oumuamua, are satisfactorily explained if it was a collisional fragment of an exo-Pluto made mostly of N2 ice [1]. This matches its compositional constraints (no detectable H2O, CO, CO2, or dust), its albedo and color, its extreme axis ratios (due to > 95% mass loss as it rounded the Sun), and in particular exactly matches its non-gravitational acceleration. Our Solar System potentially ejected ~10-2 ME of fragments ~100 m in size, roughly half of them N2 ice, from the surfaces of differentiated Pluto-like dwarf planets during the outer Solar System dynamical instability [2]. If all stellar systems ejected such fragments with equal efficiency, this would translate into 2*1014 objects per solar mass of star, or 5*10-4 au-3, which compares not unfavorably to the statistical range allowed by the observation of 'Oumuamua, 2*10-3 to 0.12 au-3 [3]. To better assess the match to observations and improve predictions for the Vera Rubin Observatory (VRO), we examine whether fragments might be ejected more efficiently from M star systems.

We find [3] that N2 ice can survive (T < 50 K) on planetary surfaces at rN2 ~ 0.65 au from an M star, rather than 15 AU for the Sun, and the typical collisional velocities there would be Vrel ~2 km/s rather than 1.5 km/s. The number of fragments produced scales as Mdisk (Mdisk / rN23) Vrel Vrel1.65 t, where the power of 1.65 comes from the Housen-Holsapple relations for ejected mass over impactor mass. If the disk mass Mdisk scales as Mstar, the mass of the star, and time of the dynamical instability also scales as t ~ (Mstar / rN23)1/2, then M stars are roughly 60 times more efficient at ejecting N2 ice fragments than the Sun. This suggests the number density of fragments in the Galaxy should be closer to 0.03 au-3, which is very close to the inferred value 0.04 au-3 [3]. Icy fragments from M stars should be common, and we expect VRO to expand the number of known interstellar objects this decade.

[1] Jackson, AP & Desch, SJ (2021) JGR 12606806D. [2] Desch, SJ & Jackson, AP (2021) JGR 12606807D. [3] Desch, SJ & Jackson, AP (2022) Astrobiology, 22, 1400.

Some Pertinent Issues for Interstellar Panspermia Raised after the Discovery of 1I/`Oumuamua

S.J. Desch, A.P. Jackson
Journal PaperAstrobiology, Volume 22, Issue 12, pp. 1400-1413, December 2022


The interstellar objects 1I/`Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov confirm the long-held expectation that bodies from one stellar system will be carried to another, allowing, in principle, interstellar panspermia. Life might be transferred between stellar systems, depending on the nature of the bodies and how they escaped their systems. 2I/Borisov appears to be a comet, with no more likelihood of carrying life than Solar System comets. In contrast, the nature of 1I/`Oumuamua has been difficult to determine. We review various hypotheses for its origin, including ejection of N2 ice from the surface of an exo-Pluto, formation in a molecular cloud by freezing of H2, and a derelict solar sail of alien construction. Of these, the N2 ice fragment hypothesis is uniquely falsifiable, plausible, and completely consistent with all observations. The possibility of interstellar panspermia would be made more probable if `Oumuamua originated on a dwarf planet rather than a comet, although substantial challenges to transfer of life would remain. Of proposed mechanisms for interstellar panspermia, transfer of life via rocky meteoroids is perhaps less improbable.

Strike While the Iron is Hot: Giant Impacts and Vaporisation as the Key to Forming Iron-Rich Worlds?

A.P. Jackson, C. Unterborn, S.J. Desch, S.R. Kane
Conference AbstractExoplanets in Our Backyard 2, held 2-4 November, 2022 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. LPI Contribution No. 2687, 2022, id.3055


As the number exoplanets grows, a new class of worlds is emerging: super-Mercuries, planets >1 Earth-mass, but with high core-mass fractions like Mercury. Studying them together with Mercury we can learn about both exoplanets and the solar system.

How Many Interstellar Nitrogen Ice Fragments like 'Oumuamua are There?

S.J. Desch, A.P. Jackson
Conference AbstractExoplanets in Our Backyard 2, held 2-4 November, 2022 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. LPI Contribution No. 2687, 2022, id.3040


Collisions on solar system pluto surfaces ejected > 10^14 N2 ice fragments. Such non-spaceship-y fragments exactly match observations of 'Oumuamua. M stars may eject 10x more fragments, which would match the frequency of interstellar objects.

What should meteorites from Mercury look like?

S.J. Desch, C.T. Unterborn, A.P. Jackson
Conference Abstract85th Annual Meeting of The Meteoritical Society, held August 14-19, 2022 in Glasgow, Scotland. LPI Contribution No. 2695, id.6512


Meteorites may derive from daughter bodies formed after the giant impact. These would sample the earliest composition of Mercury's crust, not today's. Don't reject NWA 7325 as being from Mercury just because it formed at t < 6 Myr.

The breakup of a long-period comet is not a likely match to the Chicxulub impactor

S.J. Desch, A.P. Jackson, J.L. Noviello, A. Anbar
Journal PaperScientific Reports, Volume 12, id 10415, June 2022


Since the discovery of Ir in the clay layer at the K-Pg boundary1, scientists have sought to constrain the origin of the extraterrestrial impactor that triggered the end-Cretaceous mass extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs and other species. While the first proposal was for an asteroid1, for a while some theories invoked a cometary impactor to explain perceived periodicities in mass extinctions2. Such models have long been disfavored by the mass of Ir in the layer, inferred to be 2.0−2.8*1011g. The size of the Chicxulub crater leads to an estimated asteroid impactor diameter, D=10km1,4,5. Comets typically impact at higher speeds, reducing the impactor mass for the same impact energy4. Although it is increasingly recognized that a continuum exists between comets and asteroids, ’comets’ are considered to be more ice-rich (estimates for 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko are about 20%;6), implying lower Ir contents per impactor mass. A carbonaceous chondrite-like asteroid of the appropriate size would likely deliver approximately 2.3*1011g of Ir4, in the center of the estimated mass range of the global Ir layer; but a comet would only deliver roughly 0.1*1011g, because it would be less massive. Although these conclusions are long standing, Siraj and Loeb7 have recently argued anew in favor of a comet over an asteroid, based on dynamical and geochemical evidence. Here we demonstrate that their arguments are based on misinterpretations of the literature, and that an asteroid is in fact still highly favored over a comet.

1I/'Oumuamua: A sample of an exo-Pluto, and the nearest exoplanet

S.J. Desch, A.P. Jackson
Conference AbstractAASTCS9, Exoplanets 4, id. 102.08. Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, Vol. 54, No. 5 e-id 2022n5i102p08, June 2022


1I/'Oumuamua was the first confirmed interstellar object (ISO) [1,2] and an immediate mystery. It had no dust tail or observed emission from H2O, CO, etc. (N2 was be invisible) [1,3]. Its non-gravitational acceleration varied as 1/d2, as comets do from sublimation of ices, but 10 times greater than typical [4]. From light curves, its shape was a disk with extreme axis ratios 6:6:1 [5]. We show [6] all these mysteries are resolved if 'Oumuamua was a ~45m × 44m × 7.5m fragment of N2 ice as seen on Pluto. Such fragments were necessarily ejected during the Solar System's dynamical instability [7]. Pluto's surface ice would match all constraints on 'Oumuamua's composition. The albedo, etc., of N2 ice exactly matches its observed non-gravitational acceleration. The predicted ~92% mass loss at perihelion exactly explains its extreme shape. Collisions among the thousands of "plutos" in the early Solar System [8] would have ejected ~0.001 ME of fragments [9]. If most stellar systems were similar, and accounting for cosmic ray erosion, [9,10] predict an interstellar density of fragments nISO = 0.0005 AU-3, 1/3 of observed being N2 ice. This matches observations (nISO = 0.003 AU-3, 90% C.I. 0.00015 AU-3< nISO < 0.009 AU-3 [1,10]). Specious claims about the mass budget of N2 ice needed to match nISO [11] are thoroughly debunked [10]. We [6,9,10] suggest 'Oumuamua was ejected from an exo-Pluto in a young stellar system in the Perseus arm ~0.5 Gyr ago. Kuiper Belts with thousands of plutos, and dynamical instabilities, must be common features of exoplanetary system architecture. In October 2017, the surface material of an exoplanet was directly observed at 0.1 AU.

References: [1] Meech K.J., et al. (2017) Nat., 552, 378. [2] 'Oumuamua ISSI Team (2019) Nat. Astro., 3, 594. [3] Trilling D.E., et al. (2018) AJ, 156, 261. [4] Micheli M., et al. (2018) Nat., 559, 223. [5] Mashchenko S. (2019) MNRAS, 489, 3003. [6] Jackson, A.P. & Desch, S.J. (2021) JGR 126, e06706. [7] Tsiganis K., et al. (2005) Nat., 435, 459. [8] Nesvorný D. & Vokrouhlický D. (2016) Ap.J., 825, 94. [9] Desch, S.J. & Jackson, A.P. (2021) JGR 126, e06807. [10] Desch, S.J. & Jackson, A.P. (2022), subm. Astrobiology. [11] Siraj, A. & Loeb, A. (2022), New Astron. 92, 101730.

RW Aur A : SpeX Spectral Evidence for Differentiated Planetesimal Formation, Migration and Destruction in an 3 Myr Old Excited CTTS System

C.M. Lisse, M.L. Sitko, S.J. Wolk, H.M. Günther, S. Brittain, J.D. Green, J. Steckloff, B. Johnson, C.C. Espaillat, M. Koutoukali, S.Y. Moorman, A.P. Jackson
Journal PaperAstronomical Journal, Volume 928, id 189, April 2022


We present 2007 - 2020 SpeX VISNIR spectral monitoring of the highly variable RW Aur A CTTS. We find direct evidence for a highly excited, IR bright, asymmetric, and time variable system. Comparison of the spectral and temporal trends found determines 5 different components: (1) a stable continuum from 0.7 - 1.3 um, with approx color temperature 4000K, produced by the CTTS photospheric surface; (2) variable hydrogen emission lines emitted from hot excited hydrogen in the CTTSs protostellar atmosphere/accretion envelope; (3) hot CO gas in the CTTSs protostellar atmosphere/accretion envelope; (4) highly variable 1.8-5.0 um thermal continuum emission with color temperature ranging from 1130 to 1650K, due to a surrounding accretion disk that is spatially variable and has an inner wall at r = 0.04 AU and T = 1650K, and outer edges at approx 1200K; and (5) transient, bifurcated signatures of abundant Fe II + associated SI, SiI, and SrI in the systems jet structures. The bifuracted signatures first appeared in 2015, but these collapsed and disappeared into a small single peak protostellar atmosphere feature by late 2020. The temporal evolution of RW Aur As spectral signatures is consistent with a dynamically excited CTTS system forming differentiated Vesta-sized planetesimals in an asymmetric accretion disk and migrating them inward to be destructively accreted. By contrast, nearby, coeval binary companion RW Aur B evinces only (1) a stable WTTS photospheric continuum from 0.7 - 1.3 um + (3) cold CO gas in absorption + (4) stable 1.8-5.0 um thermal disk continuum emission with color temperature approx 1650K.

Ice Impact Experiments with EPIC: Validation of Results and Explosive Penetration of a Pressurised Water Pocket

Alan P. Jackson, Jens Ormo, Noah Hammond
Conference Abstract 53rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 7-11 March, 2022 at The Woodlands, Texas. LPI Contribution No. 2678, 2022, id.2512


We shot some ice

And it was nice

But with water bubble

It did us trouble

From tight confinement

It burst in excitement

Chips Off the Old Block: 1I/'Oumuamua and C/2016 R2 as Fragments of the Surfaces of Pluto-Like Planets

Alan P. Jackson, Steven J. Desch
Conference Abstract 53rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 7-11 March, 2022 at The Woodlands, Texas. LPI Contribution No. 2678, 2022, id.2486


Two bodies, both alike in origin

In Sol Sys where we lay our scene

From ancient surface break to new fragment

Where CO and N2 outgas

A Star-sized Impact-produced Dust Clump in the Terrestrial Zone of the HD 166191 System

Kate Y.L. Su, Grant M. Kennedy, Everett Schlawin, Alan P. Jackson, George H. Rieke
Journal PaperAstronomical Journal, Volume 927, id 135, March 2022


We report on five years of 3-5 μm photometry measurements obtained by warm Spitzer to track the dust debris emission in the terrestrial zone of HD 166191 in combination with simultaneous optical data. We show that the debris production in this young (~10 Myr) system increased significantly in early 2018 and reached a record high level (almost double by mid 2019) by the end of the Spitzer mission (early 2020), suggesting intense collisional activity in its terrestrial zone likely due to either initial assembling of terrestrial planets through giant impacts or dynamical shake-up from unseen planet-mass objects or recent planet migration. This intense activity is further highlighted by detecting a star-size dust clump, passing in front of the star, in the midst of its infrared brightening. We constrain the minimum size and mass of the clump using multiwavelength transit profiles and conclude that the dust clump is most likely created by a large impact involving objects of several hundred kilometers in size with an apparent period of 142 days (i.e., 0.62 au, assuming a circular orbit). The system's evolutionary state (right after the dispersal of its gas-rich disk) makes it extremely valuable to learn about the process of terrestrial-planet formation and planetary architecture through future observations.

Carbon monoxide gas produced by a giant impact in the inner region of a young system

Tajana Schneiderman, Luca Matrà, Alan P. Jackson, Grant M. Kennedy, Quentin Kral, Sebastián Marino, Karin I. Öberg, Kate Y. L. Su, David J. Wilner, Mark C. Wyatt
Journal PaperNature, Volume 598, pages 425-428, October 2021


Models of terrestrial planet formation predict that the final stages of planetary assembly—lasting tens of millions of years beyond the dispersal of young protoplanetary disks—are dominated by planetary collisions. It is through these giant impacts that planets like the young Earth grow to their final mass and achieve long-term stable orbital configurations[1]. A key prediction is that these impacts produce debris. So far, the most compelling observational evidence for post-impact debris comes from the planetary system around the nearby 23-million-year-old A-type star HD 172555. This system shows large amounts of fine dust with an unusually steep size distribution and atypical dust composition, previously attributed to either a hypervelocity impact[2,3] or a massive asteroid belt[4]. Here we report the spectrally resolved detection of a carbon monoxide gas ring co-orbiting with dusty debris around HD 172555 between about six and nine astronomical units—a region analogous to the outer terrestrial planet region of our Solar System. Taken together, the dust and carbon monoxide detections favour a giant impact between large, volatile-rich bodies. This suggests that planetary-scale collisions, analogous to the Moon-forming impact, can release large amounts of gas as well as debris, and that this gas is observable, providing a window into the composition of young planets.

The Chicxulub impactor: comet or asteroid?

Steven J. Desch, Alan P. Jackson, Jessica Noviello, Ariel Anbar
Research NoteAstronomy & Geophysics, Volume 62, Issue 3, pages 3.34-3.37, June 2021


Steve Desch, Alan Jackson, Jessica Noviello and Ariel Anbar assess the evidence for what type of object caused the end–Cretaceous extinction and suggest best practices for writing and reviewing inter–disciplinary papers

Matters Arising on "Breakup of a long-period comet as the origin of the dinosaur extinction" by Siraj & Loeb

Steven J. Desch, Alan P. Jackson, Jessica Noviello, Ariel Anbar
Rebuttalsubmitted to Nature Scientific Reports


The recent publication by Siraj & Loeb (2021; Nature Scientific Reports 11, 3803) attempts to revive the debate over whether the Chicxulub impactor was a comet or an asteroid. They calculate that ~20% of long-period comets impacting Earth will have first been disrupted by passage inside the Sun's Roche limit, generating thousands of fragments, each the needed size of the Chicxulub impactor. This would increase the impact rate of comets by a factor ~15, making them as likely to hit the Earth as an asteroid. They also argue that a comet would be a factor of 10 more likely to match the geochemical constraints, which indicate the Chicxulub impactor was carbonaceous chondrite-like. These conclusions are based on misinterpretations of the literature. Siraj & Loeb overestimate the number of fragments produced during tidal disruption of a comet: tens of fragments are produced, not thousands. They also conflate 'carbonaceous chondrite' with specific types of carbonaceous chondrite, and ignore the evidence of iridium, making comets seem more likely than asteroids to match the Chicxulub impactor, when in fact they likely can be ruled out. Rather than a comet, an asteroidal impactor similar to CM or CR carbonaceous chondrites is strongly favored.

Dynamical Avenues for Mercury's Origin. I. The Lone Survivor of a Primordial Generation of Short-period Protoplanets

Matthew S. Clement, John E. Chambers, Alan P. Jackson
Journal PaperThe Astronomical Journal, Volume 161, Issue 5, id.240, May 2021


The absence of planets interior to Mercury continues to puzzle terrestrial-planet formation models, particularly when contrasted with the relatively high derived occurrence rates of short-period planets around Sun-like stars. Recent work proposed that the majority of systems hosting hot super-Earths attain their orbital architectures through an epoch of dynamical instability after forming in quasi-stable, tightly packed configurations. Isotopic evidence seems to suggest that the formation of objects in the super-Earth-mass regime is unlikely to have occurred in the solar system as the terrestrial-forming disk is thought to have been significantly mass deprived starting around 2 Myr after the formation of calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions—a consequence of either Jupiter's growth or an intrinsic disk feature. Nevertheless, terrestrial-planet formation models and high-resolution investigations of planetesimal dynamics in the gas-disk phase occasionally find that quasi-stable protoplanets with mass comparable to that of Mars emerge in the vicinity of Mercury's modern orbit. In this paper, we investigate whether it is possible for a primordial configuration of such objects to be cataclysmically destroyed in a manner that leaves Mercury behind as the sole survivor without disturbing the other terrestrial worlds. We use numerical simulations to show that this scenario is plausible. In many cases, the surviving Mercury analog experiences a series of erosive impacts, thereby boosting its Fe/Si ratio. A caveat of our proposed genesis scenario for Mercury is that Venus typically experiences at least one late giant impact.

1I/'Oumuamua as an N2 ice fragment of an exo-Pluto surface: I. Size and Compositional Constraints

Alan P. Jackson, Steven J. Desch
Journal PaperJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Mar 2021


The origin of the interstellar object 1I/'Oumuamua has defied explanation. We perform calculations of the non-gravitational acceleration that would be experienced by bodies composed of a range of different ices and demonstrate that a body composed of N2 ice would satisfy the available constraints on the non-gravitational acceleration, size and albedo, and lack of detectable emission of CO or CO2 or dust. We find that 'Oumuamua was small, with dimensions 45 m x 44 m x 7.5 m at the time of observation at 1.42 au from the Sun, with a high albedo of 0.64. This albedo is consistent with the N2 surfaces of bodies like Pluto and Triton. We estimate 'Oumuamua was ejected about 0.4-0.5 Gyr ago from a young stellar system, possibly in the Perseus arm. Objects like 'Oumuamua may directly probe the surface compositions of a hitherto-unobserved type of exoplanet: "exo-plutos". In a companion paper (Desch & Jackson, 2021) we demonstrate that dynamical instabilities like the one experienced by the Kuiper belt, in other stellar systems, plausibly could generate and eject large numbers of N2 ice fragments. 'Oumuamua may be the first sample of an exoplanet brought to us.

1I/'Oumuamua as an N2 ice fragment of an exo-Pluto surface: II: Generation of N2 ice fragments and the origin of 'Oumuamua

Steven J. Desch, Alan P. Jackson
Journal PaperJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Mar 2021


The origin of the interstellar object 1I/'Oumuamua, has defied explanation. In a companion paper (Jackson & Desch, 2021), we show that a body of N2 ice with axes 45 m × 44 m × 7.5 m at the time of observation would be consistent with its albedo, non-gravitational acceleration, and lack of observed CO or CO2 or dust. Here we demonstrate that impacts on the surfaces of Pluto-like Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) would have generated and ejected ~1015 collisional fragments—roughly 2/3 of them H2O ice fragments and 1/3 of them N2 ice fragments—due to the dynamical instability that depleted the primordial Kuiper belt. We show consistency between these numbers and the frequency with which we would observe interstellar objects like 1I/'Oumuamua, and more comet-like objects like 2I/Borisov, if other stellar systems eject such objects with efficiency like that of the Sun; we infer that differentiated KBOs and dynamical instabilities that eject impact-generated fragments may be near-universal among extrasolar systems. Galactic cosmic rays would erode such fragments over 4.5 Gyr, so that fragments are a small fraction (~0.1%) of long-period Oort comets, but C/2016 R2 may be an example. We estimate 'Oumuamua was ejected about 0.4-0.5 Gyr ago, from a young (~108 yr) stellar system, which we speculate was in the Perseus arm. Objects like 'Oumuamua may directly probe the surface compositions of a hitherto-unobserved type of exoplanet: "exo-plutos". 'Oumuamua may be the first sample of an exoplanet brought to us.

To See a World in a Shard of Ice: 'Oumuamua as a Fragment of N2 Ice from an Exo-Pluto

Alan P. Jackson, Steven J. Desch
Conference Abstract 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 15-19 March, 2021 virtually. LPI Contribution No. 2548, 2021, id.1718


Visitor from afar

How we wondered what you are

But now we ken

It is nitrogen!

A Moth-Eaten Blanket: Re-Impacting Debris Punctured Holes in the Early Lunar Crust

Alan P. Jackson, Viranga Perera, Travis S.J. Gabriel
Conference Abstract 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 15-19 March, 2021 virtually. LPI Contribution No. 2548, 2021, id.2294


The Moon was hot

But now is not

How long did it take?

Much is at stake

The crust kept the heat in

Until it was beat in

Shot full of holes

By a hail of stones

Leftover Earth

From its own birth.

Mid-infrared Studies of HD 113766 and HD 172555: Assessing Variability in the Terrestrial Zone of Young Exoplanetary Systems

Kate Y.L. Su, George H. Rieke, Carl Melis, Alan P. Jackson, Paul S. Smith, Huan Y.A. Meng, Andras Gaspar
Journal PaperThe Astrophysical Journal, Volume 898, Issue 1, id.21, July 2020


We present multiepoch infrared photometry and spectroscopy obtained with warm Spitzer, Subaru, and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to assess variability for the young (∼20 Myr) and dusty debris systems around HD 172555 and HD 113766A. No variations (within 0.5%) were found for the former at either 3.6 or 4.5 μm, while significant nonperiodic variations (peak to peak of ∼10%-15% relative to the primary star) were detected for the latter. Relative to the Spitzer Infrared Spectrograph spectra taken in 2004, multiepoch mid-infrared spectra reveal no change in either the shape of the prominent 10 μm solid-state features or the overall flux levels (no more than 20%) for both systems, corroborating the fact that the population of submicron-size grains that produce the pronounced solid-state features is stable over a decadal timescale. We suggest that these submicron-size grains were initially generated in an optically thick clump of debris of millimeter-size vapor condensates resulting from a recent violent impact between large asteroidal or planetary bodies. Because of the shielding from the stellar photons provided by this clump, intense collisions led to an overproduction of fine grains that would otherwise be ejected from the system by radiation pressure. As the clump is sheared by its orbital motion and becomes optically thin, a population of very fine grains could remain in stable orbits until Poynting-Robertson drag slowly spirals them into the star. We further suggest that the 3-5 μm disk variation around HD 113766A is consistent with a clump/arc of such fine grains on a modestly eccentric orbit in its terrestrial zone.

Automated crater shape retrieval using weakly-supervised deep learning

Mohamad Ali-Dib, Kristen Menou, Alan P. Jackson, Chenchong Zhu, Noah Hammond
Journal PaperIcarus, Volume 345, article id. 113749, July 2020


Crater ellipticity determination is a complex and time consuming task that so far has evaded successful automation. We train a state of the art computer vision algorithm to identify craters in Lunar digital elevation maps and retrieve their sizes and 2D shapes. The computational backbone of the model is MaskRCNN, an "instance segmentation" general framework that detects craters in an image while simultaneously producing a mask for each crater that traces its outer rim. Our post-processing pipeline then finds the closest fitting ellipse to these masks, allowing us to retrieve the crater ellipticities. Our model is able to correctly identify 87% of known craters in the longitude range we hid from the network during training and validation (test set), while predicting thousands of additional craters not present in our training data. Manual validation of a subset of these 'new' craters indicates that a majority of them are real, which we take as an indicator of the strength of our model in learning to identify craters, despite incomplete training data. The crater size, ellipticity, and depth distributions predicted by our model are consistent with human-generated results. The model allows us to perform a large scale search for differences in crater diameter and shape distributions between the lunar highlands and maria, and we exclude any such differences with a high statistical significance.

HD 145263: Spectral Observations of Silica Debris Disk Formation via Extreme Space Weathering?

Casey Lisse, Huan Y.A. Meng, Michael L. Sitko, Andreas Morlok, Brandon C. Johnson, Alan P. Jackson, Ronald J. Vervack Jr., Christine H. Chen, Scott J. Wolk, Maxime D. Lucas, Marco Marengo, Daniel T. Britt
Journal PaperThe Astrophysical Journal, Volume 894, Issue 2, id.116, 16 pp., May 2020


We report here time-domain infrared spectroscopy and optical photometry of the HD 145263 silica-rich circumstellar-disk system taken from 2003 through 2014. We find an F4V host star surrounded by a stable, massive 1022-1023 kg (MMoon to MMars) dust disk. No disk gas was detected, and the primary star was seen rotating with a rapid ∼1.75 day period. After resolving a problem with previously reported observations, we find the silica, Mg-olivine, and Fe-pyroxene mineralogy of the dust disk to be stable throughout and very unusual compared to the ferromagnesian silicates typically found in primordial and debris disks. By comparison with mid-infrared spectral features of primitive solar system dust, we explore the possibility that HD 145263's circumstellar dust mineralogy occurred with preferential destruction of Fe-bearing olivines, metal sulfides, and water ice in an initially comet-like mineral mix and their replacement by Fe-bearing pyroxenes, amorphous pyroxene, and silica. We reject models based on vaporizing optical stellar megaflares, aqueous alteration, or giant hypervelocity impacts as unable to produce the observed mineralogy. Scenarios involving unusually high Si abundances are at odds with the normal stellar absorption near-infrared feature strengths for Mg, Fe, and Si. Models involving intense space weathering of a thin surface patina via moderate (T < 1300 K) heating and energetic ion sputtering due to a stellar super-flare from the F4V primary are consistent with the observations. The space-weathered patina should be reddened, contain copious amounts of nanophase Fe, and should be transient on timescales of decades unless replenished.

Gravity-dominated Collisions: A Model for the Largest Remnant Masses with Treatment for "Hit and Run" and Density Stratification

Travis S.J. Gabriel*, Alan P. Jackson, Erik Asphaug, Andreas Reufer, Martin Jutzi, Wily Benz
Journal PaperThe Astrophysical Journal, Volume 892, Issue 1, article id. 40, 49 pp., March 2020


We develop empirical relationships for the accretion and erosion of colliding gravity-dominated bodies of various compositions under conditions expected in late-stage solar system formation. These are fast, easily coded relationships based on a large database of smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) simulations of collisions between bodies of different compositions, including those that are water rich. The accuracy of these relations is also comparable to the deviations of results between different SPH codes and initial thermal/rotational conditions. We illustrate the paucity of disruptive collisions between major bodies, as compared to collisions between less massive planetesimals in late-stage planet formation, and thus focus on more probable, low-velocity collisions, though our relations remain relevant to disruptive collisions as well. We also pay particular attention to the transition zone between merging collisions and those where the impactor does not merge with the target, but continues downrange, a "hit-and-run" collision. We find that hit-and-run collisions likely occur more often in density-stratified bodies and across a wider range of impact angles than suggested by the most commonly used analytic approximation. We also identify a possible transitional zone in gravity-dominated collisions where larger bodies may undergo more disruptive collisions when the impact velocity exceeds the sound speed, though understanding this transition warrants further study. Our results are contrary to the commonly assumed invariance of total mass (scale), density structure, and material composition on the largest remnants of giant impacts. We provide an algorithm for adopting our model into N-body planet formation simulations, so that the mass of growing planets and debris can be tracked.

Revisiting the Giant Impact Model for Mercury

Steven J. Desch, Alan P. Jackson, Cayman T. Unterborn, Francis M. McCubbin
Conference Abstract 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 16-20 March, 2020 at The Woodlands, Texas. LPI Contribution No. 2326, 2020, id.1749


A mantle-stripping impact at just five million years / And the middle part of Mercury all just disappears!

Testing Accretion Models Against the "Peas in a Pod" Observation of Exoplanets

Jessica L. Noviello, Steven J. Desch, Alan P. Jackson
Conference Abstract Exoplanets in Our Backyard: Solar System and Exoplanet Synergies on Planetary Formation, Evolution, and Habitability, held 5-7 February, 2020 in Houston, TX. LPI Contribution No. 2195, 2020, id.3066


Observational evidence suggests that exoplanets are similarly sized and are equally spaced within their systems ("peas in a pod"). We test various planetary formation models to see if they reproduce the peas-in-a-pod pattern.

Can a Machine Learn the Outcome of Planetary Collisions?

Diana Valencia, Emaad Paracha*, Alan P. Jackson
Journal PaperThe Astrophysical Journal, Volume 882, Issue 1, article id. 35, 11 pp., September 2019


Planetary-scale collisions are common during the last stages of formation of solid planets, including the solar system terrestrial planets. The problem of growing planets has been divided into studying the gravitational interaction of embryos relevant on million year timescales and treated with N-body codes and the collision between objects with a timescale of hours to days and treated with smoothed-particle hydrodynamics. These are now being coupled with simple parameterized models. We set out to investigate if machine-learning techniques can offer a better solution by predicting the outcome of collisions that can then be used in N-body simulations. We considered three different supervised machine-learning approaches: gradient boosting regression trees, nested models, and Gaussian processes (GPs). We found that the former produced the best results, and that it was slightly surpassed by ensembling different algorithms. With GPs, we found the regions of parameter space that may yield the most information to machine-learning algorithms. Thus, we suggest new smoothed-particle hydrodynamics calculations to focus first on mass ratios >0.5.

M-stars Are Fast and Neat and A-stars Are Slow and Messy at Late-stage Rocky Planet Formation

Carey M. Lisse, Alan P. Jackson, S. J. Wolk, B. T. Snios, Steven J. Desch, Cayman Unterborn, R. I. Patel, James E. Owen, Olja Panic
Research NoteResearch Notes of the American Astronomical Society, Volume 3, Issue 7, article id. 90, July 2019


Here we take the results of diverse exosystem observational surveys, synthesized with our recent exodisk research, to form a novel hypothesis explaining stellar trends in late-stage rocky planet and circumstellar disk formation.

Oort cloud asteroids: collisional evolution, the Nice Model, and the Grand Tack

Andrew Shannon, Alan P. Jackson, Mark C. Wyatt
Journal PaperMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 485, Issue 4, p.5511-5518, June 2019


If the Solar system had a history of planet migration, the signature of that migration may be imprinted on the populations of asteroids and comets that were scattered in the planets' wake. Here, we consider the dynamical and collisional evolution of the inner Solar system asteroids that join the Oort cloud. We compare the Oort cloud asteroid populations produced by migration scenarios based on the `Nice' and `Grand Tack' scenarios, as well as a null hypothesis where the planets have not migrated, to the detection of one such object, C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS). Our simulations find that the discovery of C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) only has a > 1 per cent chance of occurring if the Oort cloud asteroids evolved on to Oort cloud orbits when the Solar system was less than 1 Myr old, as this early transfer to the Oort cloud is necessary to keep the amount of collisional evolution low. We argue that this only occurs when a giant (>30 Earth mass) planet orbits at 1 to 2 au, and thus our results strongly favour a `Grand Tack'-like migration having occurred early in the Solar system's history.

Extreme Debris Disk Variability: Exploring the Diverse Outcomes of Large Asteroid Impacts During the Era of Terrestrial Planet Formation

Kate Y. L. Su, Alan P. Jackson, Andras Gáspár, George H. Rieke, Ruobing Dong, Johan Olofsson, Grant M. Kennedy, Zoe M. Leinhardt, Renu Malhotra, Michael Hammer, Huan Y. A. Meng, W. Rujopakarn, Joseph E. Rodriguez, Joshua Pepper, D. E. Reichart, David James, Keivan G. Stassun
Journal PaperThe Astronomical Journal, Volume 157, Issue 5, article id. 202, 25 pp., May 2019


The most dramatic phases of terrestrial planet formation are thought to be oligarchic and chaotic growth, on timescales of up to 100─200 Myr, when violent impacts occur between large planetesimals of sizes up to protoplanets. Such events are marked by the production of large amounts of debris, as has been observed in some exceptionally bright and young debris disks (termed extreme debris disks). Here we report five years of Spitzer measurements of such systems around two young solar-type stars: ID8 and P1121. The short-term (weekly to monthly) and long-term (yearly) disk variability is consistent with the aftermaths of large impacts involving large asteroid-sized bodies. We demonstrate that an impact-produced clump of optically thick dust, under the influence of the dynamical and viewing geometry effects, can produce short-term modulation in the disk light curves. The long-term disk flux variation is related to the collisional evolution within the impact-produced fragments once released into a circumstellar orbit. The time-variable behavior observed in the P1121 system is consistent with a hypervelocity impact prior to 2012 that produced vapor condensates as the dominant impact product. Two distinct short-term modulations in the ID8 system suggest two violent impacts at different times and locations. Its long-term variation is consistent with the collisional evolution of two different populations of impact-produced debris dominated by either vapor condensates or escaping boulders. The bright, variable emission from the dust produced in large impacts from extreme debris disks provides a unique opportunity to study violent events during the era of terrestrial planet formation.

Lunar Crater Identification via Deep Learning

Ari Silburt*, Mohamad Ali-Dib, Chenchong Zhu, Alan P. Jackson, Diana Valencia, Yevgeni Kissin, Daniel Tamayo, Kristen Menou
Journal PaperIcarus, Volume 317, pages 27-38, January 2019


Crater counting on the Moon and other bodies is crucial to constrain the dynamical history of the Solar System. This has traditionally been done by visual inspection of images, thus limiting the scope, efficiency, and/or accuracy of retrieval. In this paper we demonstrate the viability of using convolutional neural networks (CNNs) to determine the positions and sizes of craters from a Lunar digital elevation map (DEM). We recover 92% of craters from the human-generated test set and almost double the total number of crater detections. Of these new craters, 15% are smaller in diameter than the minimum crater size in the ground-truth dataset. Our median fractional longitude, latitude and radius errors are 11% or less, representing good agreement with the human-generated datasets. From a manual inspection of 361 new craters we estimate the false positive rate of new craters to be 11%. Moreover, our Moon-trained CNN performs well when tested on DEM images of Mercury, detecting a large fraction of craters in each map. Our results suggest that deep learning will be a useful tool for rapidly and automatically extracting craters on various Solar System bodies. Code is publicly available via the links above

Early Lunar Crust Healed Itself After Impacts Punctured Holes

Viranga Perera, Alan P. Jackson
Conference Abstract The First Billion Years: Bombardment, held 30 September - 2 October 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona, USA. LPI Contribution No. 2107, id.2027


We conducted a series of iSALE hydrocode simulations to model impacts onto the early Moon. This work will help identify the types of impacts that would have punctured the early crust and help us better understand the thermal evolution of the Moon.

Cratering and Penetration of the Early Lunar Crust

Viranga Perera, Alan P. Jackson, Linda T. Elkins-Tanton, Erik Asphaug, Travis S.J. Gabriel
Conference Abstract The First Billion Years: Bombardment, held 30 September - 2 October 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona, USA. LPI Contribution No. 2107, id.2024


We conducted a series of iSALE hydrocode simulations to model impacts onto the early Moon. This work will help identify the types of impacts that would have punctured the early crust and help us better understand the thermal evolution of the Moon.

Short-Term Disk Flux Modulations due to the Orbital Evolution of Impact Produced Clouds of Dust in NGC2547-ID8

Kate Y. L. Su, Alan P. Jackson, Ruobing Dong, George Rieke, Andras Gaspar
Conference Abstract The First Billion Years: Bombardment, held 30 September - 2 October 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona, USA. LPI Contribution No. 2107, id.2025


We showed that the short-term disk modulations observed in the ID8 system are due to the orbital evolution of an optically thick cloud produced by two impacts occurred at two different locations and time.

Observing Giant, Planet Forming Impacts in Exoplanetary Systems

Alan P. Jackson, Kate Y. L. Su, Ruobing Dong, George Rieke, Andras Gaspar
Conference Abstract The First Billion Years: Bombardment, held 30 September - 2 October 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona, USA. LPI Contribution No. 2107, id.2019


We describe the complex light curves expected for optically thick dust clouds produced by giant impacts in extrasolar systems experiencing ongoing planet formation and discuss the information we can extract about the forming planetary system.

Effect of reimpacting debris on the solidification of the lunar magma ocean

Viranga Perera*, Alan P. Jackson, Linda T. Elkins-Tanton, Erik Asphaug
Journal Paper Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Volume 123, Issue 5, pages 1168-1191, May 2018


Anorthosites that comprise the bulk of the lunar crust are believed to have formed during solidification of a lunar magma ocean (LMO) in which these rocks would have floated to the surface. This early flotation crust would have formed a thermal blanket over the remaining LMO, prolonging solidification. Geochronology of lunar anorthosites indicates a long timescale of LMO cooling, or remelting and recrystallization in one or more late events. To better interpret this geochronology, we model LMO solidification in a scenario where the Moon is being continuously bombarded by returning projectiles released from the Moon-forming giant impact. More than one lunar mass of material escaped the Earth-Moon system onto heliocentric orbits following the giant impact, much of it to come back on returning orbits for a period of 100 Myr. If large enough, these projectiles would have punctured holes in the nascent floatation crust of the Moon, exposing the LMO to space and causing more rapid cooling. We model these scenarios using a thermal evolution model of the Moon that allows for production (by cratering) and evolution (solidification and infill) of holes in the flotation crust that insulates the LMO. For effective hole production, solidification of the magma ocean can be significantly expedited, decreasing the cooling time by more than a factor of 5. If hole production is inefficient, but shock conversion of projectile kinetic energy to thermal energy is efficient, then LMO solidification can be somewhat prolonged, lengthening the cooling time by 50% or more.

Ejection of rocky and icy material from binary star systems: Implications for the origin and composition of 1I/`Oumuamua

Alan P. Jackson, Daniel Tamayo, Noah Hammond, Mohamad Ali-Dib, Hanno Rein
Conference Abstract 49th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 19-23 March 2018 at The Woodlands, Texas, USA. LPI contribution no. 2083, id. 1583


We suggest that rocky interstellar objects like 1I/`Oumuamua are likely predominantly sourced from intermediate mass (A or late B-type) binary star systems.

Ejection of rocky and icy material from binary star systems: Implications for the origin and composition of 1I/`Oumuamua

Alan P. Jackson, Daniel Tamayo, Noah Hammond, Mohamad Ali-Dib, Hanno Rein
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, Volume 478, Issue 1, pages L49-L53, March 2018


In single star systems like our own Solar system, comets dominate the mass budget of bodies that are ejected into interstellar space, since they form further away and are less tightly bound. However 1I/`Oumuamua, the first interstellar object detected, appears asteroidal in its spectra and in its lack of detectable activity. We argue that the galactic budget of interstellar objects like 1I/`Oumuamua should be dominated by planetesimal material ejected during planet formation in circumbinary systems, rather than in single star systems or widely separated binaries. We further show that in circumbinary systems, rocky bodies should be ejected in comparable numbers to icy ones. This suggests that a substantial fraction of additional interstellar objects discovered in the future should display an active coma. We find that the rocky population, of which 1I/`Oumuamua seems to be a member, should be predominantly sourced from A-type and late B-star binaries.

Constraints on the pre-impact orbits of Solar system giant impactors

Alan P. Jackson, Travis S.J. Gabriel*, Erik I. Asphaug
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 474, Issue 3, pages 2924-2936, March 2018


We provide a fast method for computing constraints on impactor pre-impact orbits, applying this to the late giant impacts in the Solar system. These constraints can be used to make quick, broad comparisons of different collision scenarios, identifying some immediately as low-probability events, and narrowing the parameter space in which to target follow-up studies with expensive N-body simulations. We benchmark our parameter space predictions, finding good agreement with existing N-body studies for the Moon. We suggest that high-velocity impact scenarios in the inner Solar system, including all currently proposed single impact scenarios for the formation of Mercury, should be disfavoured. This leaves a multiple hit-and-run scenario as the most probable currently proposed for the formation of Mercury.

Dynamical and biological panspermia constraints within multi-planet exosystems

Dimitri Veras, David J. Armstrong, James A. Blake, Jose F. Gutierrez-Marcos, Alan P. Jackson, Hendrik Schaefer
Journal Paper Astrobiology, Volume 18, Issue 9, pages 1106-1122, September 2018


As discoveries of multiple planets in the habitable zone of their parent star mount, developing analytical techniques to quantify extrasolar intra-system panspermia will become increasingly important. Here, we provide user-friendly prescriptions that describe the asteroid impact characteristics which would be necessary to transport life both inwards and outwards within these systems within a single framework. Our focus is on projectile generation and delivery and our expressions are algebraic, eliminating the need for the solution of differential equations. We derive a probability distribution function for life-bearing debris to reach a planetary orbit, and describe the survival of micro-organisms during planetary ejection, their journey through interplanetary space, and atmospheric entry.

The Taurus Boundary of Stellar/Substellar (TBOSS) Survey. II. Disk Masses from ALMA Continuum Observations

Kimberley Ward-Duong*, Jennifer Patience, Joanna Bulger, Gerrit van der Plas, Francois Ménard, Christophe Pinte, Alan P. Jackson, Geoffrey Bryden, Neal J. Turner, Paul M. Harvey, Antonio Hales, Robert J. de Rosa
Journal Paper The Astronomical Journal, Volume 155, Issue 2, article 54, February 2018,


We report 885 μm ALMA continuum flux densities for 24 Taurus members spanning the stellar/substellar boundary with spectral types from M4 to M7.75. Of the 24 systems, 22 are detected at levels ranging from 1.0 to 55.7 mJy. The two nondetections are transition disks, though other transition disks in the sample are detected. Converting ALMA continuum measurements to masses using standard scaling laws and radiative transfer modeling yields dust mass estimates ranging from ∼0.3 to 20 M. The dust mass shows a declining trend with central object mass when combined with results from submillimeter surveys of more massive Taurus members. The substellar disks appear as part of a continuous sequence and not a distinct population. Compared to older Upper Sco members with similar masses across the substellar limit, the Taurus disks are brighter and more massive. Both Taurus and Upper Sco populations are consistent with an approximately linear relationship in Mdust to Mstar, although derived power-law slopes depend strongly upon choices of stellar evolutionary model and dust temperature relation. The median disk around early-M stars in Taurus contains a comparable amount of mass in small solids as the average amount of heavy elements in Kepler planetary systems on short-period orbits around M-dwarf stars, with an order of magnitude spread in disk dust mass about the median value. Assuming a gas-to-dust ratio of 100:1, only a small number of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs have a total disk mass amenable to giant planet formation, consistent with the low frequency of giant planets orbiting M dwarfs.

Disk Properties Across the Stellar/Substellar Boundary and Implications for Planet Formation and Detection of Planets Around M-Stars

Kimberley Ward-Duong*, Jennifer Patience, Joanna Bulger, Gerrit van der Plas, Francois Ménard, Christophe Pinte, Alan P. Jackson, Geoffrey Bryden, Neal J. Turner, Paul M. Harvey, Antonio Hales, Robert J. de Rosa
Conference Abstract Habitable Worlds 2017: A system science workshop, held 13-17 November 2017 in Laramie, Wyoming, USA. LPI contribution no. 2042 id. 4104


We report 885μm ALMA submm fluxes for 24 low mass Taurus members. The dust mass declines with object mass, and a number of targets have resolved disks. Based on standard gas:dust mass estimates, very few disks are amenable to giant planet formation.

Expedited Cooling of the Lunar Magma Ocean Due to Impacts

Viranga Perera*, Alan P. Jackson, Travis S.J. Gabriel*, Linda T. Elkins-Tanton, Erik I. Asphaug
Conference Abstract 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 20-24 March 2017 at The Woodlands, Texas, USA. LPI contribution no. 1964 id. 2524


Impacts puncturing holes into the nascent lunar crust could have expedited the cooling of the lunar magma ocean.

Impacts into Thin Crust Overlying a Magma Ocean

Alan P. Jackson, Viranga Perera*, Travis S.J. Gabriel*, Linda T. Elkins-Tanton, Erik I. Asphaug
Conference Abstract 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 20-24 March 2017 at The Woodlands, Texas, USA. LPI contribution no. 1964 id. 2664


Impacts into thin crust overlying magma oceans produce thermal holes and extensive fracturing, profoundly altering the evolution of the magma ocean and crust.

Constraining the Pre-Impact Orbits of Solar System Giant Impactors

Alan P. Jackson, Travis S.J. Gabriel*, Erik I. Asphaug
Conference Abstract 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held 20-24 March 2017 at The Woodlands, Texas, USA. LPI contribution no. 1964 id. 2733


We demonstrate a fast method for computing the possible orbits of solar system giant impactors and discuss the consequences for their regions of origin.

How to design a planetary system for different scattering outcomes: giant impact sweet spot, maximizing exocomets, scattered discs

Mark C. Wyatt, Amy Bonsor, Alan P. Jackson, Sebastiano Marino*, Andrew Shannon
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 464, Issue 3, January 2017, pages 3385-3407,


This paper considers the dynamics of the scattering of planetesimals or planetary embryos by a planet on a circumstellar orbit. We classify six regions in the planet's mass versus semimajor axis parameter space according to the dominant outcome for scattered objects: ejected, accreted, remaining, escaping, Oort Cloud, and depleted Oort Cloud. We use these outcomes to consider which planetary system architectures maximize the observability of specific signatures, given that signatures should be detected first around systems with optimal architectures (if such systems exist in nature). Giant impact debris is most readily detectable for 0.1-10 M planets at 1-5 au, depending on the detection method and spectral type. While A stars have putative giant impact debris at 4-6 au consistent with this sweet spot, that of FGK stars is typically ≪1 au contrary to expectations; an absence of 1-3 au giant impact debris could indicate a low frequency of terrestrial planets there. Three principles maximize the cometary influx from exo-Kuiper belts: a chain of closely separated planets interior to the belt, none of which is a Jupiter-like ejector; planet masses not increasing strongly with distance (for a net inward torque on comets); and ongoing replenishment of comets, possibly by embedded low-mass planets. A high Oort Cloud comet influx requires no ejectors and architectures that maximize the Oort Cloud population. Cold debris discs are usually considered classical Kuiper belt analogues. Here we consider the possibility of detecting scattered disc analogues, which could be betrayed by a broad radial profile and lack of small grains, as well as spherical 100-1000 au mini-Oort Clouds. Some implications for escaping planets around young stars, detached planets akin to Sedna, and the formation of super-Earths are also discussed.

Gas and dust around A-type stars at tens of Myr: signatures of cometary break-up

Jane S. Greaves, W.S. Holland, Brenda C. Matthews, Jonathan P. Marshall, William R.F. Dent, P. Woitke, Mark C. Wyatt, Luca Matra*, Alan P. Jackson
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2016, in Press


Discs of dusty debris around main-sequence stars indicate fragmentation of orbiting planetesimals, and for a few A-type stars, a gas component is also seen that may come from collisionally-released volatiles. Here we find the sixth example of a CO-hosting disc, around the ∼30 Myr-old A0-star HD 32997. Two more of these CO-hosting stars, HD 21997 and 49 Cet, have also been imaged in dust with SCUBA-2 within the SONS project. A census of 27 A-type debris hosts within 125 pc now shows 7/16 detections of carbon-bearing gas within the 5-50 Myr epoch, with no detections in 11 older systems. Such a prolonged period of high fragmentation rates corresponds quite well to the epoch when most of the Earth was assembled from planetesimal collisions. Recent models propose that collisional products can be spatially asymmetric if they originate at one location in the disc, with CO particularly exhibiting this behaviour as it can photodissociate in less than an orbital period. Of the six CO-hosting systems, only β Pic is in clear support of this hypothesis. However, radiative transfer modelling with the ProDiMo code shows that the CO is also hard to explain in a proto-planetary disc context.

The spherical Brazil Nut Effect and its significance to asteroids

Viranga Perera*, Alan P. Jackson, Erik Asphaug, Ronald-Louis Ballouz*
Journal Paper Icarus, Volume 278, 1 November 2016, Pages 194-203


Many asteroids are likely rubble-piles that are a collection of smaller objects held together by gravity and possibly cohesion. These asteroids are seismically shaken by impacts, which leads to excitation of their constituent particles. As a result it has been suggested that their surfaces and sub-surface interiors may be governed by a size sorting mechanism known as the Brazil Nut Effect. We study the behavior of a model asteroid that is a spherical, self-gravitating aggregate with a binary size-distribution of particles under the action of applied seismic shaking. We find that above a seismic threshold, larger particles rise to the surface when friction is present, in agreement with previous studies that focussed on cylindrical and rectangular box configurations. Unlike previous works we also find that size sorting takes place even with zero friction, though the presence of friction does aid the sorting process above the seismic threshold. Additionally we find that while strong size sorting can take place near the surface, the innermost regions remain unsorted under even the most vigorous shaking.

Insights into planet formation from debris disks: II. Giant impacts in extrasolar planetary systems

Mark C. Wyatt, Alan P. Jackson
Book Chapter The disk in relation to the formation of planets and their proto-atmospheres, International Space Science Institute (ISSI), 2016
Journal Paper Space Science Reviews, Volume 205, Issue 1, December 2016, pages 231-265


Giant impacts refer to collisions between two objects each of which is massive enough to be considered at least a planetary embryo. The putative collision suffered by the proto-Earth that created the Moon is a prime example, though most Solar System bodies bear signatures of such collisions. Current planet formation models predict that an epoch of giant impacts may be inevitable, and observations of debris around other stars are providing mounting evidence that giant impacts feature in the evolution of many planetary systems. This chapter reviews giant impacts, focussing on what we can learn about planet formation by studying debris around other stars. Giant impact debris evolves through mutual collisions and dynamical interactions with planets. General aspects of this evolution are outlined, noting the importance of the collision-point geometry. The detectability of the debris is discussed using the example of the Moon-forming impact. Such debris could be detectable around another star up to 10 Myr post-impact, but model uncertainties could reduce detectability to a few 100 yr window. Nevertheless the 3% of young stars with debris at levels expected during terrestrial planet formation provide valuable constraints on formation models; implications for super-Earth formation are also discussed. Variability recently observed in some bright disks promises to illuminate the evolution during the earliest phases when vapour condensates may be optically thick and acutely affected by the collision-point geometry. The outer reaches of planetary systems may also exhibit signatures of giant impacts, such as the clumpy debris structures seen around some stars.

Extreme, variable debris disks produced by giant impacts during terrestrial planet formation

Alan P. Jackson
Conference Abstract European planetary science congress (EPSC), held 27 September - 2 October, 2015 in Nantes, France. id. EPSC2015-794


Giant impacts between planetary scale bodies release large quantities of debris into their host systems. This debris, especially vapour condensates, may be extremely bright and optically thick. The variation in the shape of the dust cloud as it orbits the star, and undergoes Keplerian shear, can lead to large variations in the optical thickness, and consequent large variations in the observed flux, producing complex light-curves. By studying the light-curves of these extreme debris disks we can gain a powerful probe into the properties of the forming planets in the system.

Stop Hitting Yourself: Did most Terrestrial Impactors Originate from the Terrestrial Planets?

Alan P. Jackson, Erik Asphaug, Linda Elkins-Tanton, David A. Minton
Conference Abstract Workshop on Early Solar System Impact Bombardment III, held 4-5 February, 2015 in Houston, Texas. LPI Contribution No. 1826, p.3036


In addition to building planets giant impacts also release large quantities of debris. The ultimate fate of this is largely re-accretion, and this debris population could be the dominant source of impactors in the early solar system.

Debris from Borealis Basin Formation as the Primary Impactor Population of Late Heavy Bombardment

David A. Minton, Alan P. Jackson, Erik Asphaug, Caleb I. Fassett, Jim E. Richardson
Conference Abstract Workshop on Early Solar System Impact Bombardment III, held 4-5 February, 2015 in Houston, Texas. LPI Contribution No. 1826, p.3033


Here we investigate a novel Giant Impact Debris (GID) hypothesis to explain a number of observations regarding the LHB. In the GID hypothesis, the formation of the crustal dichotomy on Mars (Borealis Basin) generates LHB impactors.

The Earliest Lunar Bombardment Produced by Moon-Forming Impact Ejecta

William F. Bottke, David A. Vokrouhlicky, Simone Marchi, Alan P. Jackson, Hal Levison, Tim Swindle
Conference Abstract Workshop on Early Solar System Impact Bombardment III, held 4-5 February, 2015 in Houston, Texas. LPI Contribution No. 1826, p.3012


The giant impact that formed the Moon ejected several percent of an Earth mass out of cis-lunar space in the form of small debris. Using collisional and dynamical models, we show its return can reproduce the Moon’s pre-Nectarian impact record.

Eight billion asteroids in the Oort cloud

Andrew Shannon, Alan P. Jackson, Dimitri Veras, Mark C. Wyatt
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 446, Issue 2, January 2015, Pages 2059-2064


The Oort cloud is usually thought of as a collection of icy comets inhabiting the outer reaches of the Solar system, but this picture is incomplete. We use simulations of the formation of the Oort cloud to show that ~4 per cent of the small bodies in the Oort cloud should have formed within 2.5 au of the Sun, and hence be ice-free rock-iron bodies. If we assume that these Oort cloud asteroids have the same size distribution as their cometary counterparts, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope should find roughly a dozen Oort cloud asteroids during 10 years of operations. Measurement of the asteroid fraction within the Oort cloud can serve as an excellent test of the Solar system's formation and dynamical history. Oort cloud asteroids could be of particular concern as impact hazards as their high mass density, high impact velocity, and low visibility make them both hard to detect and hard to divert or destroy. However, they should be a rare class of object, and we estimate globally catastrophic collisions should only occur about once per billion years.

Molecular gas clumps from the destruction of icy bodies in the β Pictoris debris disk

W.R.F. Dent, M.C. Wyatt, A. Roberge, J.-C. Augereau, S. Casassus, S. Corder, J.S. Greaves, I. de Gregorio-Monsalvo, A. Hales, A.P. Jackson, A. Meredith Hughes, A.-M. Lagrange, B. Matthews, D. Wilner
Journal Paper Science, Volume 343, Issue 6178, March 2014, Pages 1490-1492


Many stars are surrounded by disks of dusty debris formed in the collisions of asteroids, comets, and dwarf planets, but is gas also released in such events? Observations at submillimeter wavelengths of the archetypal debris disk around β Pictoris show that 0.3% of a Moon mass of carbon monoxide orbits in its debris belt. The gas distribution is highly asymmetric, with 30% found in a single clump 85 astronomical units from the star, in a plane closely aligned with the orbit of the inner planet, β Pictoris b. This gas clump delineates a region of enhanced collisions, either from a mean motion resonance with an unseen giant planet or from the remnants of a collision of Mars-mass planets.

Debris from giant impacts between planetary embryos at large orbital radii

Alan P. Jackson, Mark C. Wyatt, Amy Bonsor, Dimitri Veras
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 440, Issue 4, June 2014, Pages 3757-3777


We consider the observational signatures of giant impacts between planetary embryos. While the debris released in the impact remains in a clump for only a single orbit, there is a much longer lasting asymmetry caused by the fact that all debris must pass through the collision-point. The resulting asymmetry is stationary, it does not orbit the star. The debris is concentrated in a clump at the collision-point, with a more diffuse structure on the opposite side. The asymmetry lasts for typically around 1000 orbital periods of the progenitor, which can be several Myr at distances of ~50 au. We describe how the appearance of the asymmetric disc depends on the mass and eccentricity of the progenitor, as well as viewing orientation. The wavelength of observation, which determines the grain sizes probed, is also important. Notably, the increased collision rate of the debris at the collision-point makes this the dominant production site for any secondary dust and gas created. For dust small enough to be removed by radiation pressure, and gas with a short lifetime, this causes their distribution to resemble a jet emanating from the (stationary) collision-point. We suggest that the asymmetries seen at large separations in some debris discs, like Beta Pictoris, could be the result of giant impacts. If so, this would indicate that planetary embryos are present and continuing to grow at several tens of au at ages of up to tens of Myr.

Light from Shattered Worlds: Debris from Giant Impacts

Alan P. Jackson, Mark C. Wyatt, William R.F. Dent, Aki Roberge
Conference Abstract Exploring the Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems, Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union, IAU Symposium, Volume 299, pp. 344-345


Large impacts in the outer parts of a planetary system will produce debris discs that display a strong, distinctive, asymmetry, which will last for 105 year timescales. Debris resulting from a large impact may be able to explain the asymmetries in some known debris discs that have hitherto been difficult to understand.

Debris from terrestrial planet formation: the Moon-forming collision

Alan P. Jackson, Mark C. Wyatt
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 425, Issue 1, September 2012, Pages 657-679


We study the evolution of debris created in the giant impacts expected during the final stages of terrestrial planet formation. The starting point is the debris created in a simulation of the Moon-forming impact. The dynamical evolution is followed for 10 Myr including the effects of Earth, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. The spatial distribution evolves from a clump in the first few months to an asymmetric ring for the first 10 kyr and finally becoming an axisymmetric ring by about 1 Myr after the impact. By 10 Myr after the impact 20 per cent of the particles have been accreted on to Earth and 17 per cent on to Venus, with 8 per cent ejected by Jupiter and other bodies playing minor roles. However, the fate of the debris also depends strongly on how fast it is collisionally depleted, which depends on the poorly constrained size distribution of the impact debris. Assuming that the debris is made up of 30 per cent by mass mm-cm-sized vapour condensates and 70 per cent boulders up to 500 km, we find that the condensates deplete rapidly on ~1000 yr time-scales, whereas the boulders deplete predominantly dynamically. By considering the luminosity of dust produced in collisions within the boulder-debris distribution we find that the Moon-forming impact would have been readily detectable around other stars in Spitzer 24 μm surveys for around 25 Myr after the impact, with levels of emission comparable to many known hot dust systems. The vapour condensates meanwhile produce a short-lived, optically thick, spike of emission. We use these surveys to make an estimate of the fraction of stars that form terrestrial planets, FTPF. Since current terrestrial planet formation models invoke multiple giant impacts, the low fraction of 10-100 Myr stars found to have warm (>~150 K) dust implies that FTPF≲10 per cent. For this number to be higher, it would require that either terrestrial planets are largely fully formed when the protoplanetary disc disperses, or that impact generated debris consists purely of sub-km objects such that its signature is short-lived.

Planetary evaporation by UV & X-ray radiation: basic hydrodynamics

James E. Owen, Alan P. Jackson
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 425, Issue 4, October 2012, Pages 2931-2947


We consider the evaporation of close-in planets by the star's intrinsic extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) and X-ray radiation. We calculate evaporation rates by solving the hydrodynamical problem for planetary evaporation including heating from both X-ray and EUV radiation. We show that most close-in planets (a < 0.1 au) are evaporating hydrodynamically, with the evaporation occurring in two distinct regimes: X-ray driven, in which the X-ray heated flow contains a sonic point, and EUV driven, in which the X-ray region is entirely sub-sonic. The mass-loss rates scale as LX/a2 for X-ray driven evaporation, and as Φ*1/2/a for EUV driven evaporation at early times, with mass-loss rates of the order of 1010-1014 g s-1. No exact scaling exists for the mass-loss rate with planet mass and planet radius; however, in general evaporation proceeds more rapidly for planets with lower densities and higher masses. Furthermore, we find that in general the transition from X-ray driven to EUV driven evaporation occurs at lower X-ray luminosities for planets closer to their parent stars and for planets with lower densities.

Coupling our evaporation models to the evolution of the high-energy radiation - which falls with time - we are able to follow the evolution of evaporating planets. We find that most planets start off evaporating in the X-ray driven regime, but switch to EUV driven once the X-ray luminosity falls below a critical value. The evolution models suggest that while 'hot Jupiters' are evaporating, they are not evaporating at a rate sufficient to remove the entire gaseous envelope on Gyr time-scales. However, we do find that close in Neptune mass planets are more susceptible to complete evaporation of their envelopes. Thus we conclude that planetary evaporation is more important for lower mass planets, particularly those in the 'hot Neptune'/'super Earth' regime.

The coronal X-ray-age relation and its implications for the evaporation of exoplanets

Alan P. Jackson, Timothy A. Davis, Peter J. Wheatley
Journal Paper Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 422, Issue 3, May 2012, Pages 2024-2043


We study the relationship between coronal X-ray emission and stellar age for late-type stars, and the variation of this relationship with spectral type. We select 717 stars from 13 open clusters and find that the ratio of X-ray to bolometric luminosity during the saturated phase of coronal emission decreases from 10-3.1 for late K dwarfs to 10-4.3 for early-F-type stars [across the range 0.29 ≤ (B-V)0 < 1.41]. Our determined saturation time-scales vary between 107.8 and 108.3 yr, though with no clear trend across the whole FGK range. We apply our X-ray emission-age relations to the investigation of the evaporation history of 121 known transiting exoplanets using a simple energy-limited model of evaporation and taking into consideration Roche lobe effects and different heating/evaporation efficiencies. We confirm that a linear cut-off of the planet distribution in the M2/R3 versus a-2 plane is an expected result of population modification by evaporation and show that the known transiting exoplanets display such a cut-off. We find that for an evaporation efficiency of 25 per cent we expect around one in ten of the known transiting exoplanets to have lost ≥5 per cent of their mass since formation. In addition we provide estimates of the minimum formation mass for which a planet could be expected to survive for 4 Gyr for a range of stellar and planetary parameters. We emphasize the importance of the earliest periods of a planet's life for its evaporation history with 75 per cent expected to occur within the first Gyr. This raises the possibility of using evaporation histories to distinguish between different migration mechanisms. For planets with spin-orbit angles available from measurements of the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect, no difference is found between the distributions of planets with misaligned orbits and those with aligned orbits. This suggests that dynamical effects accounting for misalignment occur early in the life of the planetary system, although additional data are required to test this.

Image credit: NASA/ESA, the debris disk around Fomalhaut as seen in scattered light by the STIS instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope