Hydrodynamical and radiative transfer modeling of meteoroid impacts into Saturn's rings

Lindsey S. Chambers, Jeffrey N. Cuzzi, Erik Asphaug, Joshua Colwell, Seiji Sugita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


In a small hypervelocity impact, superheated gas and particles glow brightly with thermal emission for a brief time interval at short wavelengths; this phenomenon is referred to as an impact flash. Over the past decade, impact flashes have been observed on the Moon and in the laboratory in both the IR and visible portions of the spectrum. These phenomena have been used to constrain impactor parameters, such as impact size, velocity and composition. With the arrival of the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn, we embarked on a study of impact flashes in Saturn's rings. We present results on the feasibility of observing impact flashes and therefore estimating the flux of meteoroids impacting Saturn's rings using Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS). Our modeling effort is two-fold. We start by simulating impacts using the CTH hydrodynamical code. Impacts involve an icy ring particle and a serpentine meteoroid, modeled with the ANEOS equation of state. The objects are centimeters to meters in diameter and collide at 30 to 50 km s-1. We then use the resulting temperatures and densities of the impact plumes in a radiative transfer calculation. We calculate bound-free, free-free, electron scattering and negative ion opacities along a line-of-sight through the center of each impact plume. Our model has shown that impact flashes will not be seen with the UVIS because (1) the plumes are optically thick when their central temperatures are high, with photosphere temperatures too cool to emit observable UV flux and (2) when the plumes become optically thin, even the hottest region of the plume is too cool to observe in the UV. This corroborates the lack of UVIS impact flash detections to date. Impact flashes are not likely to be seen by other Cassini instruments because of the short lifetimes of the plumes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-635
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Impact processes
  • Planetary rings
  • Radiative transfer
  • Saturn

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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