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The Effect of Gravitational Encounters on Binary Planetesimals

Gillan, John LU (2021) In Lund Observatory Examensarbeten ASTM31 20211
Lund Observatory
Abstract
Binary planetesimals in the Kuiper belt can experience close encounters with other bodies. These encounters can disturb the orbital dynamics of the binary in several ways. Energy can be added to the system by the impactor body and lead to the disruption of the binary. Less energetic encounters can alter the orbital elements of the mutual orbit of the binary. The impactor could swap with one of the components of the binary creating a new binary. These interactions are interesting because determining how frequently they occur and what the results of the interactions are, can reveal information about the dynamical evolution of the Kuiper belt, and about planet formation and migration. Contact binaries in the Kuiper belt may be formed by this... (More)
Binary planetesimals in the Kuiper belt can experience close encounters with other bodies. These encounters can disturb the orbital dynamics of the binary in several ways. Energy can be added to the system by the impactor body and lead to the disruption of the binary. Less energetic encounters can alter the orbital elements of the mutual orbit of the binary. The impactor could swap with one of the components of the binary creating a new binary. These interactions are interesting because determining how frequently they occur and what the results of the interactions are, can reveal information about the dynamical evolution of the Kuiper belt, and about planet formation and migration. Contact binaries in the Kuiper belt may be formed by this process. In this project we investigate encounters involving binaries and similarly sized bodies in the cold classical region of the Kuiper belt. We carry out several experiments; we investigate certain combinations of binary and impactor with small random changes to the initial conditions, and analyse outcome probabilities as a result of these changes; we subject different kinds of binaries to a parameter space of impactors, investigating on a large scale how binaries respond to many different encounter situations; and finally, we follow a single binary in the Kuiper belt as it evolves over the course of many encounters, with the bodies it encounters drawn from a distribution that is representative of the environment there. We find that the mutual orbital characteristics of a binary are critical to its ability to survive encounters. Wide and eccentric orbits are more susceptible to disruption during encounters. Encounters frequently result in the formation of new binaries composed of one of the original components and the impactor. These new binaries tend to have very high eccentricities. The encounter timescale is an important factor in determining outcomes, with destructive encounters requiring a large encounter timescale. This requires a slow relative encounter velocity, which in turn implies dynamically similar orbits, with low eccentricities and inclinations. Binaries generally evolve over their lifetime to have larger eccentricities as a result of encounters. Around 80% of wide binaries survive 105 encounters. Collisions that occur as a result of these kinds of encounters typically have speeds similar to the escape speed of the bodies. (Less)
Popular Abstract
The solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune is currently a region of intense study. It contains many minor bodies much smaller than the planets that we are all familiar with, and these smaller bodies and their orbits have interesting features that can shed light on the formation and evolution of the entire solar system. The greatest concentration of these bodies is in the Kuiper belt, a relatively dense but quite wide region just outside the orbit of Neptune. The bodies in the Kuiper belt are further divided up into several categories depending on their orbital characteristics, such as how circular and how inclined the orbit is. Many of the objects in the Kuiper belt are what are known as planetesimals, which are intermediate sized bodies... (More)
The solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune is currently a region of intense study. It contains many minor bodies much smaller than the planets that we are all familiar with, and these smaller bodies and their orbits have interesting features that can shed light on the formation and evolution of the entire solar system. The greatest concentration of these bodies is in the Kuiper belt, a relatively dense but quite wide region just outside the orbit of Neptune. The bodies in the Kuiper belt are further divided up into several categories depending on their orbital characteristics, such as how circular and how inclined the orbit is. Many of the objects in the Kuiper belt are what are known as planetesimals, which are intermediate sized bodies larger than around 1 km but not as large as an actual planet. The planetesimals in the Kuiper belt are thought to be pristine leftovers from the formation of the solar system. The low density in this region means they are unlikely to have suffered many destructive collisions with other large bodies, and have not been weathered by impacts from smaller bodies and dust. Because of their small size and great distance from the Earth they are very difficult to study. Most of the images we have of Kuiper belt planetesimals have been taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and they appear as only points of light. The best images we have of a Kuiper belt planetesimal are of Arrokoth, taken in 2018 by the New Horizons spacecraft, several years after it flew past and imaged Pluto. Arrokoth has an unusual shape, and is thought to be a contact binary, a unique class of object which appears to be two bodies stuck together. Not all planetesimals in the Kuiper belt orbit the Sun on their own, but many are bound up in mutually orbiting pairs, known as binaries. The exact percentage of bodies bound up in binaries as a function of the total amount of bodies in the Kuiper belt is unknown, but it is thought to be quite high, in the order of 30%. Binaries here are interesting for several reasons. Understanding their formation could reveal information about the environment in which all planetesimals are formed, and help us understand planet formation. If we know how easily they are destroyed, their survival to the present day would tell us about the dynamical environment of the Kuiper belt. It could also tell us at what distance from the Sun they originally formed and how they got to their current location, which could then tell us about the migration of the planets, and the large scale evolution of the entire solar system. In this project we examined how the orbits of binaries in the Kuiper belt change during the course of their lifetime, as a result of close encounters with other similarly sized Kuiper belt bodies. To achieve this we used numerical simulations, which simulate the gravitational effects of objects on each other. We were interested in how resilient different kinds of binaries are to disruption, as this could help explain the current prevalence of binaries. We were also interested in whether encounters such as these are a possible formation pathway to creating contact binaries such as Arrokoth. We were also interested in how a binary’s orbit changes under the influence of non-destructive encounters, and how this affects how the binary evolves over its lifetime. We found that the way a binary reacts to a close encounter is heavily dependant on the characteristics of the mutual orbit of the binary components around each other, in particular how wide or tight the binary is, but also on how circular the orbit is, and other similar parameters. Tighter binaries are able to survive longer. We also saw that binaries where both components are the same size can stay bound together more easily than if one of the components is much smaller than the other. We concluded that these types of encounters do not seem to be efficient formation pathways for contact binaries. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
Gillan, John LU
supervisor
organization
course
ASTM31 20211
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
publication/series
Lund Observatory Examensarbeten
report number
2021-EXA183
language
English
id
9052464
date added to LUP
2021-06-11 13:02:06
date last changed
2021-06-11 13:02:06
@misc{9052464,
  abstract     = {{Binary planetesimals in the Kuiper belt can experience close encounters with other bodies. These encounters can disturb the orbital dynamics of the binary in several ways. Energy can be added to the system by the impactor body and lead to the disruption of the binary. Less energetic encounters can alter the orbital elements of the mutual orbit of the binary. The impactor could swap with one of the components of the binary creating a new binary. These interactions are interesting because determining how frequently they occur and what the results of the interactions are, can reveal information about the dynamical evolution of the Kuiper belt, and about planet formation and migration. Contact binaries in the Kuiper belt may be formed by this process. In this project we investigate encounters involving binaries and similarly sized bodies in the cold classical region of the Kuiper belt. We carry out several experiments; we investigate certain combinations of binary and impactor with small random changes to the initial conditions, and analyse outcome probabilities as a result of these changes; we subject different kinds of binaries to a parameter space of impactors, investigating on a large scale how binaries respond to many different encounter situations; and finally, we follow a single binary in the Kuiper belt as it evolves over the course of many encounters, with the bodies it encounters drawn from a distribution that is representative of the environment there. We find that the mutual orbital characteristics of a binary are critical to its ability to survive encounters. Wide and eccentric orbits are more susceptible to disruption during encounters. Encounters frequently result in the formation of new binaries composed of one of the original components and the impactor. These new binaries tend to have very high eccentricities. The encounter timescale is an important factor in determining outcomes, with destructive encounters requiring a large encounter timescale. This requires a slow relative encounter velocity, which in turn implies dynamically similar orbits, with low eccentricities and inclinations. Binaries generally evolve over their lifetime to have larger eccentricities as a result of encounters. Around 80% of wide binaries survive 105 encounters. Collisions that occur as a result of these kinds of encounters typically have speeds similar to the escape speed of the bodies.}},
  author       = {{Gillan, John}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  note         = {{Student Paper}},
  series       = {{Lund Observatory Examensarbeten}},
  title        = {{The Effect of Gravitational Encounters on Binary Planetesimals}},
  year         = {{2021}},
}