Karin cluster formation by asteroid impact

David Nesvorný, Brian L. Enke, William F. Bottke, Daniel D. Durda, Erik Asphaug, Derek C. Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Insights into collisional physics may be obtained by studying the asteroid belt, where large-scale collisions produced groups of asteroid fragments with similar orbits and spectra known as the asteroid families. Here we describe our initial study of the Karin cluster, a small asteroid family that formed 5.8 ± 0.2 Myr ago in the outer main belt. The Karin cluster is an ideal 'natural laboratory' for testing the codes used to simulate large-scale collisions because the observed fragments produced by the 5.8-Ma collision suffered apparently only limited dynamical and collisional erosion. To date, we have performed more than 100 hydrocode simulations of impacts with non-rotating monolithic parent bodies. We found good fits to the size-frequency distribution of the observed fragments in the Karin cluster and to the ejection speeds inferred from their orbits. These results suggest that the Karin cluster was formed by a disruption of an ≈33-km-diameter asteroid, which represents a much larger parent body mass than previously estimated. The mass ratio between the parent body and the largest surviving fragment, (832) Karin, is ≈0.15-0.2, corresponding to a highly catastrophic event. Most of the parent body material was ejected as fragments ranging in size from yet-to-be-discovered sub-km members of the Karin cluster to dust grains. The impactor was ≈ 5.8   km across. We found that the ejections speeds of smaller fragments produced by the collision were larger than those of the larger fragments. The mean ejection speeds of >3-km-diameter fragments were ≈ 10   m s-1. The model and observed ejection velocity fields have different morphologies perhaps pointing to a problem with our modeling and/or assumptions. We estimate that ∼ 5 % of the large asteroid fragments created by the collision should have satellites detectable by direct imaging (separations larger than 0.1 arcsec). We also predict a large number of ejecta binary systems with tight orbits. These binaries, located in the outer main belt, could potentially be detected by lightcurve observations. Hydrocode modeling provides important constraints on the interior structure of asteroids. Our current work suggests that the parent asteroid of the Karin cluster may have been an unfractured (or perhaps only lightly fractured) monolithic object. Simulations of impacts into fractured/rubble pile targets were so far unable to produce the observed large gap between the first and second largest fragment in the Karin cluster, and the steep slope at small sizes (≈6.3 differential index). On the other hand, the parent asteroid of the Karin cluster was produced by an earlier disruptive collision that created the much larger, Koronis family some 2 - 3 Gyr ago. Standard interpretation of hydrocode modeling then suggests that the parent asteroid of the Karin cluster should have been formed as a rubble pile from Koronis family debris. We discuss several solutions to this apparent paradox.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-311
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • Asteroids
  • Collisional physics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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