Thermally induced stresses in boulders on airless body surfaces, and implications for rock breakdown [EPA]

This work investigates the macroscopic thermomechanical behavior of lunar boulders by modeling their response to diurnal thermal forcing. Our results reveal a bimodal, spatiotemporally-complex stress response. During sunrise, stresses occur in the boulders’ interiors that are associated with large-scale temperature gradients developed due to overnight cooling. During sunset, stresses occur at the boulders’ exteriors due to the cooling and contraction of the surface. Both kinds of stresses are on the order of 10 MPa in 1 m boulders and decrease for smaller diameters, suggesting that larger boulders break down more quickly. Boulders <30 cm exhibit a weak response to thermal forcing, suggesting a threshold below which crack propagation may not occur. Boulders of any size buried by regolith are shielded from thermal breakdown. As boulders increase in size (>1 m), stresses increase to several 10s of MPa as the behavior of their surfaces approaches that of an infinite halfspace. As the thermal wave loses contact with the boulder interior, stresses become limited to the near-surface. This suggests that the survival time of a boulder is not only controlled by the amplitude of induced stress, but also by its diameter as compared to the diurnal skin depth. While stresses on the order of 10 MPa are enough to drive crack propagation in terrestrial environments, crack propagation rates in vacuum are not well constrained. We explore the relationship between boulder size, stress, and the direction of crack propagation, and discuss the implications for the relative breakdown rates and estimated lifetimes of boulders on airless body surfaces.

Read this paper on arXiv…

J. Molaro, S. Byrne and J. Le
Fri, 10 Mar 17

Comments: 31 pages, 12 figures