The impact of a solid object into a bed of grains is a major topic in many fields from ballistics to astronomy. Researchers study these impacts experimentally using photoelastic disks, which display visible stress patterns when placed between polarizers. The lightning-like patterns you see above reveal how forces propagate inside the grains as the object hits.
Researchers focused on the peak forces generated during high-speed impacts, an area that hasn’t been well-captured by existing impact models. They found that this peak force obeys its own scaling laws that depend on factors like impact speed, impacter size, grain stiffness, and grain density. (Image and research credit: N. Krizou and A. Clark)