Dancing Asteroids and Hopping Dust Grains: Their Importance for Planetary Science and Exploration

One of the most active areas of research in planetary science is to do with how asteroids evolve with time and the fundamental processes that drive this evolution. Here I will highlight the recent discovery of a cluster of Mars Trojan asteroids (Christou, Icarus, 2013) and provide an update on this ongoing project including new results obtained in the last few months. I will argue that this new feature of the inner solar system is a unique natural laboratory to help understand how, and why, asteroids break up, form and otherwise evolve.

Every airless body of the solar system is surrounded by a cloud of dust produced by the continuous flux of meteoroids impacting its surface. Apart from being a concern for exploration activities, this is also an active research topic in its own right and the focus of the recent LADEE mission to the Moon. In this part of my presentation, I will describe a new model of the ejecta cloud and show how the ensemble properties of the cloud can be directly expressed as functions of particle speed & height and the model parameters. I will then apply the model to the lunar case and demonstrate its potential for achieving a better understanding of the physics of hypervelocity impact and informing future plans for robotic or human operations in the Moon’s vicinity and beyond.