What happens to the atmosphere when planets collide

(ORDO NEWS) — Planetary collisions are common in the universe. Even the Earth once had to go through one of them.

Researchers from the University of Durham in England, with the participation of scientists from the University of Glasgow, have developed a way to reveal the scale of atmospheric loss in planetary collisions based on three-dimensional simulations of a supercomputer.

Simulations show how terrestrial rocky planets with thin atmospheres could have evolved in early stellar systems, depending on how they were affected by other objects.

Using the COSMA supercomputer, part of the DiRAC high-performance computing facility in Durham, the researchers performed more than 100 detailed simulations of various large-scale impacts on planets, varying the speed and angle of impact on a case-by-case basis.

They found that glancing impacts, such as what is believed to have shaped our moon, resulted in much less atmospheric loss than a direct impact. Head-on collisions and higher speeds result in much more erosion, sometimes completely obliterating the atmosphere along with part of the planet’s mantle.

The findings provide a better understanding of what happens during these large-scale impacts, which are common and important events in planetary evolution.

The Moon is believed to have formed about 4.5 billion years ago after a collision between the early Earth and a giant object, possibly the size of Mars. Our planet was relatively lucky with this collision, and it lost 10 to 50 percent of its atmosphere.

“We know that planetary collisions can have a critical impact on the planet’s atmosphere, but this is the first time that we have been able to study in detail a wide range of these large-scale events. Despite the surprising variety of consequences that can occur at different angles of impact and velocities, we have found an easy way to predict how much atmosphere will be lost in each case, ”- study co-author Jacob Kegerreis.

This, he said, lays the foundation for predicting atmospheric erosion from any large-scale collision to be used in models of planetary formation in general. In turn, this will help to understand the history of the Earth as a habitable planet and the evolution of exoplanets around other stars.

Currently, the authors of the work continue to create simulations to understand the consequences of collisions at different masses and compositions of colliding objects.


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