Phenomena

Asteroid Impact

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I often receive questions about how fluids react to extremely hard and fast impacts. Some people wonder if there’s a regime where a fluid like water will react like a solid. In reality, nature works the opposite way. Striking a solid hard enough and fast enough makes it behave like a fluid. The video above shows a simulated impact of a 500-km asteroid in the Pacific Ocean. (Be sure to watch with captions on.) The impact rips 10 km off the crust of the Earth and sends a hypersonic shock wave of destruction around the entire Earth. There’s a strong resemblance in the asteroid impact to droplet impacts and splashes. Much of this has to do with the energy of impact. The asteroid’s kinetic (and, indeed, potential) energy prior to impact is enormous, and conservation of energy means that energy has to go somewhere. It’s that energy that vaporizes the oceans and fluidizes part of the Earth’s surface. That kinetic energy rips the orderly structure of solids apart and turns it effectively into a granular fluid. (Video credit: Discovery Channel; via J. Hertzberg)

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