Simulating regoliths in microgravity

Murdoch, N.; Rozitis, B.; Green, S. F.; Michel, P.; de Lophem, T.- L. and Losert, W. (2013). Simulating regoliths in microgravity. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 433 pp. 506–514.



Despite their very low surface gravities, the surfaces of asteroids and comets are covered by granular materials – regolith – that can range from a fine dust to a gravel-like structure of varying depths. Understanding the dynamics of granular materials is, therefore, vital for the interpretation of the surface geology of these small bodies and is also critical for the design and/or operations of any device planned to interact with their surfaces. We present the first measurements of transient weakening of granular material after shear reversal in microgravity as well as a summary of experimental results recently published in other journals, which may have important implications for small-body surfaces. Our results suggest that the force contact network within a granular material may be weaker in microgravity, although the influence of any change in the contact network is felt by the granular material over much larger distances. This could mean that small-body surfaces are even more unstable than previously imagined. However, our results also indicate that the consequences of, e.g., a meteorite impact or a spacecraft landing, may be very different depending on the impact angle and location, and depending on the prior history of the small-body surface.

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