Monday, June 10, 2013

1306.1622 (Paul Sánchez et al.)

The Strength of Regolith and Rubble Pile Asteroids    [PDF]

Paul Sánchez, Daniel J. Scheeres
We explore the hypothesis that, due to small van der Waals forces between regolith grains, the strength of small rubble pile asteroids is constant. This creates a scale dependence, with relative strength increasing as size decreases. This counters classical theory that rubble pile asteroids should behave as scale-independent cohesionless collections of rocks. We explore a simple model for asteroid strength that is based on these weak forces, validate it through granular mechanics simulations and comparisons with properties of lunar regolith, and then show its implications and ability to explain and predict observed properties of small asteroids in the NEA and Main Belt populations. A conclusion is that the population of rapidly rotating asteroids consists of both distributions of smaller grains (i.e., rubble piles) and of monolithic boulders whose surfaces may still retain a size distribution of finer grains, potentially of size up to centimeters.
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