Mercurian impact ejecta: Meteorites and mantle

Authors

  • Brett GLADMAN,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of British Columbia, Department of Physics and Astronomy, 6244 Agricultural Road, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1, Canada
      *gladman@astro.ubc.ca
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  • Jaime COFFEY

    1. University of British Columbia, Department of Physics and Astronomy, 6244 Agricultural Road, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1, Canada
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*gladman@astro.ubc.ca

Abstract

Abstract— We have examined the fate of impact ejecta liberated from the surface of Mercury due to impacts by comets or asteroids, in order to study 1) meteorite transfer to Earth, and 2) reaccumulation of an expelled mantle in giant-impact scenarios seeking to explain Mercury's large core. In the context of meteorite transfer during the last 30 Myr, we note that Mercury's impact ejecta leave the planet's surface much faster (on average) than other planets in the solar system because it is the only planet where impact speeds routinely range from 5 to 20 times the planet's escape speed; this causes impact ejecta to leave its surface moving many times faster than needed to escape its gravitational pull. Thus, a large fraction of Mercurian ejecta may reach heliocentric orbit with speeds sufficiently high for Earth-crossing orbits to exist immediately after impact, resulting in larger fractions of the ejecta reaching Earth as meteorites. We calculate the delivery rate to Earth on a time scale of 30 Myr (typical of stony meteorites from the asteroid belt) and show that several percent of the high-speed ejecta reach Earth (a factor of 2–3 less than typical launches from Mars); this is one to two orders of magnitude more efficient than previous estimates. Similar quantities of material reach Venus.

These calculations also yield measurements of the re-accretion time scale of material ejected from Mercury in a putative giant impact (assuming gravity is dominant). For Mercurian ejecta escaping the gravitational reach of the planet with excess speeds equal to Mercury's escape speed, about one third of ejecta reaccretes in as little as 2 Myr. Thus collisional stripping of a silicate proto-Mercurian mantle can only work effectively if the liberated mantle material remains in small enough particles that radiation forces can drag them into the Sun on time scale of a few million years, or Mercury would simply re-accrete the material.

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