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Journal Articles Astronomy and Astrophysics - A&A Year : 2020

Tidal distortion and disruption of rubble-pile bodies revisited

Yun Zhang
Patrick Michel


Context. In the course of a close approach to planets or stars, the morphological and dynamical properties of rubble-pile small bodies can be dramatically modified, and some may catastrophically break up, as in the case of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. This phenomenon is of particular interest for the understanding of the evolution and population of small bodies, and for making predictions regarding the outcomes of future encounters. Previous numerical explorations have typically used methods that do not adequately represent the nature of rubble piles. The encounter outcomes and influence factors are still poorly constrained.Aims. Based on recent advances in modeling rubble-pile physics, we aim to provide a better understanding of the tidal encounter processes of rubble piles through soft-sphere discrete element modeling (SSDEM) and to establish a database of encounter outcomes and their dependencies on encounter conditions and rubble-pile properties.Methods. We performed thousands of numerical simulations using the SSDEM implemented in the N-body code pkdgrav to study the dynamical evolution of rubble piles during close encounters with the Earth. The effects of encounter conditions, material strength, arrangement, and resolution of constituent particles are explored.Results. Three typical tidal encounter outcomes are classified, namely: deformation, mass shedding, and disruption, ranging from mild modifications to severe damages of the progenitor. The outcome is highly dependent on the encounter conditions and on the structure and strength of the involved rubble pile. The encounter speed and distance required for causing disruption events are much smaller than those predicted by previous studies, indicating a smaller creation rate of tidally disrupted small body populations. Extremely elongated fragments with axis ratios ~1:6 can be formed by moderate tidal encounters. Our analyses of the spin-shape evolution of the largest remnants reveal reshaping mechanisms of rubble piles in response to tidal forces, which is consistent with stable rubble-pile configurations derived by continuum theory. A case study for Shoemaker-Levy 9 suggests a low bulk density (0.2–0.3 g cc−1) for its progenitor.
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Dates and versions

hal-02919294 , version 1 (22-08-2020)



Yun Zhang, Patrick Michel. Tidal distortion and disruption of rubble-pile bodies revisited: Soft-sphere discrete element analyses. Astronomy and Astrophysics - A&A, 2020, 640, pp.A102. ⟨10.1051/0004-6361/202037856⟩. ⟨hal-02919294⟩
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