Vol 15, No 3

The inner solar system cratering record and the evolution of impactor populations

Robert G. Strom, Renu Malhotra, Zhi-Yong Xiao, Takashi Ito, Fumi Yoshida, Lillian R. Ostrach


Abstract We review previously published and newly obtained crater size-frequency distributions in the inner solar system. These data indicate that the Moon and the terrestrial planets have been bombarded by two populations of objects. Population 1, dominating at early times, had nearly the same size distribution as the present-day asteroid belt, and produced heavily cratered surfaces with a complex, multi-sloped crater size-frequency distribution. Population 2, dominating since about 3.8–3.7 Gyr, had the same size distribution as near-Earth objects (NEOs) and a much lower impact flux, and produced a crater size distribution characterized by a differential –3 single-slope power law in the crater diameter range 0.02 km to 100 km. Taken together with the results from a large body of work on age-dating of lunar and meteorite samples and theoretical work in solar system dynamics, a plausible interpretation of these data is as follows. The NEO population is the source of Population 2 and it has been in near-steady state over the past ~3.7–3.8 Gyr; these objects are derived from the main asteroid belt by size-dependent non-gravitational effects that favor the ejection of smaller asteroids. However, Population 1 was composed of main belt asteroids ejected from their source region in a size-independent manner, possibly by means of gravitational resonance sweeping during orbit migration of giant planets; this caused the so-called Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB). The LHB began some time before ~3.9 Gyr, peaked and declined rapidly over the next ~100 to 300 Myr, and possibly more slowly from about 3.8–3.7 Gyr to ~2 Gyr. A third crater population (Population S) consisted of secondary impact craters that can dominate the cratering record at small diameters.


Keywords solar system: formation — minor planets, asteroids — Earth — Moon

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