Thursday, May 30, 2013

1305.6796 (E. Altshuler et al.)

Extraterrestrial sink dynamics in granular matter    [PDF]

E. Altshuler, H. Torres, A. González-Pita, G. Sánchez-Colina, C. Pérez-Penichet, S. Waitukaitis, R. C. Hidalgo
A loosely packed bed of sand sits precariously on the fence between mechanically stable and flowing states. This has especially strong implications for animals or vehicles needing to navigate sandy environments, which can sink and become stuck in a "dry quicksand" if their weight exceeds the yield stress of this fragile matter. While it is known that the contact stresses in these systems are loaded by gravity, very little is known about the sinking dynamics of objects into loose granular systems under gravitational accelerations different from the Earth's (g). A fundamental understanding of how objects sink in different gravitational environments is not only necessary for successful planetary navigation and engineering, but it can also improve our understanding of celestial impact dynamics and crater geomorphology. Here we perform and explain the first systematic experiments of the sink dynamics of objects into granular media in gravitational accelerations other than g. By using an accelerating experimental apparatus, we explore gravitational conditions ranging from 0.4g to 1.2g. With the aid of discrete element modeling simulations, we reproduce these results and extend this range to include objects as small as asteroids and as large as Jupiter. Surprisingly, we find that the final sink depth is independent of the gravitational acceleration, an observation with immediate relevance to the design of future extraterrestrial structures land-roving spacecraft. Using a phenomenological equation of motion that includes a gravity-loaded frictional term, we are able to quantitatively explain the experimental and simulation results.
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