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MEMIN receives three more years of funding



Meteorite craters in the laboratory

Joint project based at the University of Freiburg has started its second funding period.

The project started its work three years ago, is now one of the world's leading institutions in the field of crater research and has received funding for three more years. The research unit MEMIN has been awarded 1.7 million Euros from the German Research Foundation (DFG), which will be distributed to the University of Freiburg as the leading institution, along with the universities of Jena, Munich and Münster, the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed ​​Dynamics in Freiburg, the Museum of Natural History, Berlin, DESY Hamburg, and further partners in Beauvais / France and Stony Brook / USA. MEMIN stands for "Multidisciplinary Experimental and Modeling Impact crater research Network" and seeks to understand the processes involved in the formation of meteorite craters in detail. Speaker is the geologist Prof. Dr. Thomas Kenkmann of the University of Freiburg.

For billions of years of meteorites have been shaping the surfaces of all the known planets, moons, asteroids and comets in the solar system. For example, the formation of the Moon was caused by a massive collision with the early Earth. The extinction of the dinosaurs can also be attributed to a meteorite impact. Cosmic impacts remain a threat for the Earth today. This was impressively demonstrated on 15 February 2013, when a large meteor of about 15 meters diameter penetrated the atmosphere and exploded over the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk, and on the same day the 55-meter asteroid "2012 DA14" scraped by the Earth at just 27,000 kilometers distance.

The MEMIN research unit produces experimental meteorite impacts in the laboratory. A light-gas accelerator fires up to 1.2 cm large steel spheres or even actual meteorites up to a velocity of more than 25,000 kilometers per hour. In less than a millisecond the energy released upon impact forms craters of up to 40 centimeters in diameter. Modern high-speed cameras and pressure sensors record a variety of processes in real-time. Specially developed particle collectors catch the ejected material, so that it can be examined by researchers using geological and mineralogical methods. The data serve as a basis for computer models that simulate the crater formation and provide new insights into the processes of crater formation. The dimensions of the experimental craters make it possible to extrapolate the results to planetary scales.

With the new funding, the researchers want to find out, for example, how the material properties of typical rocks of the Earth's surface affect the formation of craters. The focus of the research is now on limestones, after porous rocks such as sandstone, water-saturated rocks, as well as rocks with very low porosity were investigated experimentally in the first phase. Processes are now in the center of interest that occur in the first nanoseconds to microseconds immediately upon impact. During the initial contact of the projectile with the rock surfaces extreme pressures and temperatures can occur, which can even lead to melting, vaporization and plasma formation in the impacted rocks. As a result, the researchers want to develop a much deeper understanding of the highly dynamic and complex conditions during meteorite impact - as an important basis for successful planetary defense strategies.

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