SURFACE EVOLUTION FROM ORBITAL DECAY ON PHOBOS AND TRITON
Shortly after the Viking spacecraft obtained the first geomorphic images of Phobos, it was proposed that stresses from orbital decay cause grooves. But, assuming a homogeneous Phobos, it proved impossible to account for the build-up of failure stress in the exterior regardless of the value assumed for Phobos’ rigidity. Hence, the tidal model languished. Here, we revisit the tidal origin of surface fractures with a more detailed treatment that shows the production of significant stress in a surface layer, with a very strong correlation to the geometry of grooves.
Our model results applied to surface observations imply that Phobos has a rubble pile interior that is nearly strengthless. A lunar-like cohesive regolith outer layer overlays the rubble pile interior. This outer layer behaves elastically and can experience significant tidal stress at levels able to drive tensile failure. Fissures can develop as the global body deforms due to increasing tides related to orbital decay. Phobos may have an active and evolving surface; an exciting target for further exploration. The interior predictions of this model can be evaluated by future detailed studies performed by an orbiter or lander.
Finally, our results have direct implications for one other satellite in our Solar System, Triton. This icy satellite’s orbit is decaying and surface evolution may be driven by its orbital migration.