Research

Simulating Early Planetary Impacts

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Early in our geological history, Earth was a hellish landscape of molten oceans into which metallic impactors would sometimes collide. Geophysicists have been curious how the impactors behaved after collision: did they maintain their cohesion, or did they break up into a cloud of droplets? Here the UCLA Spinlab simulates this early planetary formation by dropping liquid gallium through a tank of viscous fluid. As the video shows, the impactor’s behavior varies strongly with size. Smaller impactors stick together as a single diapir, but, as the initial size increases, the diapir becomes unstable, eventually breaking down into a cascade of droplets – a metallic rain through an ocean of magma. (Video credit: J. Wacheul et al./UCLA Spinlab; submitted by J. Aurnou)

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