The transition from circular to elliptical impact craters

Published in:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Vol. 118, 2295-2309, 2013

Dirk Elbeshausen, Kai W√ľnnemann, and Gareth S. Collins


Elliptical impact craters are rare among the generally symmetric shape of impact structures on planetary surfaces. Nevertheless, a better understanding of the formation of these craters may significantly contribute to our overall understanding of hypervelocity impact cratering. The existence of elliptical craters raises a number of questions: Why do some impacts result in a circular crater whereas others form elliptical shapes? What conditions promote the formation of elliptical craters? How does the formation of elliptical craters differ from those of circular craters? Is the formation process comparable to those of elliptical craters formed at subsonic speeds? How does crater formation work at the transition from circular to elliptical craters? By conducting more than 800 three-dimensional (3-D) hydrocode simulations, we have investigated these questions in a quantitative manner. We show that the threshold angle for elliptical crater generation depends on cratering efficiency. We have analyzed and quantified the influence of projectile size and material strength (cohesion and coefficient of internal friction) independently from each other. We show that elliptical craters are formed by shock-induced excavation, the same process that forms circular craters and reveal that the transition from circular to elliptical craters is characterized by the dominance of two processes: A directed and momentum-controlled energy transfer in the beginning and a subsequent symmetric, nearly instantaneous energy release.