Hit-and-run collisions between embryonic planets during a critical period in the early history of the Solar System may account for some previously unexplained properties of planets, asteroids, and meteorites, according to researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who describe their findings in a paper to appear in the January 12 issue of the journal Nature.
The four "terrestrial" or rocky planets (Earth, Mars, Venus, and Mercury) are the products of an initial period, lasting tens of millions of years, of violent collisions between planetary bodies of various sizes. Scientists have mostly considered these events in terms of the accretion of new material and other effects on the impacted planet, while little attention has been given to the impactor. (By definition, the impactor is the smaller of the two colliding bodies.)
But when planets collide, they don’t always stick together. About half the time, a planet-sized impactor hitting another planet-sized body will bounce off, and these hit-and-run collisions have drastic consequences for the impactor, said Erik Asphaug, associate professor of Earth sciences at UCSC and first author of the Nature paper.
Tim Stephens | EurekAlert!
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