Publication: Impact ejecta environment of an eccentric asteroid: 3200 Phaethon

Friday, Jan 25, 2019

Airless bodies in the solar system are continually bombarded by meteoroids, sustaining impact ejecta clouds. While large bodies like the Moon retain a significant fraction of ejecta, small asteroids shed this material into the interplanetary dust complex. Measurements of the lunar impact ejecta cloud found it was sustained by the known sporadic meteoroid sources. Here, we extend those measurements using a model of the IDP environment at 1 au to investigate the structure of an ejecta cloud at an eccentric airless body, asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Due to Phaethon's large eccentricity, its ejecta cloud is highly asymmetric. At 1 au, the cloud is canted towards the asteroid's apex direction and its density varies by five orders of magnitude. Compared to a body in a circular orbit at 1 au, Phaethon's peak ejecta density at 1 au is approximately 30 times higher, largely due to enhanced ejecta production from meteoroids shed from Jupiter Family Comets. Such asymmetric ejecta production suggests Phaethon experiences significantly different meteoroid-specific space weathering processes than a body with a similar semi-major axis on a circular orbit. We estimate impact ejecta processes at Phaethon shed approximately 1 ton per year, which is not sufficient to appreciably contribute to the Geminids meteoroid complex. These estimates most likely represent a lower limit, as Phaethon is expected to have a higher ejecta yield than the Moon. Additionally, we calculate predicted impact counts for a dust detector on close flybys of Phaethon in preparation for the DESTINY+ mission and find the large majority of impacts would be detected on the morning-side sunlit hemisphere. These results suggest eccentric asteroids shed more material than those on near-circular orbits, and are suitable candidates for in-situ dust detection and chemical characterization due to their amplified asymmetric ejecta production.

PDF iconLink to the paper here.