Rays in Craters

On bodies around the solar system, there are craters marking billions of years’ worth of impacts. Many of these craters have rays–distinctive lines radiating out from the point of impact. But if you drop an object onto a smooth granular surface (upper left), the ejecta form a uniform splash with no rays. The impactor must hit a roughened surface (upper right) in order to leave rays. 

Through experiment and simulation, researchers found that the rays emanate from valleys in the surface that come in contact with the impactor. Moreover, the number of rays that form depends only on the size of the impactor and the undulations of the surface. That means that, by knowing the topography of a planetary body and counting the number of rays left behind, scientists can now estimate what the size of the object that struck was! (Image, video, and research credit: T. Sabuwala et al.)

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