Experimental setup for the laboratory investigation of micrometeoroid ablation using a dust accelerator
A facility has been developed to simulate the ablation of micrometeoroids in laboratory conditions. An electrostatic dust accelerator is used to generate iron particles with velocities of 10-70 km/s. The particles are then introduced into a chamber pressurized with a target gas, where the pressure is adjustable between 0.01 and 0.5 Torr, and the particle partially or completely ablates over a short distance. An array of biased electrodes above and below the ablation path is used to collect the generated ions/electrons with a spatial resolution of 2.6 cm along the ablating particles' path, thus allowing the study of the spatiotemporal evolution of the process. For completely ablated particles, the total collected charge directly yields the ionization coefficient of a given dust material-target gas combination. The first results of this facility measured the ionization coefficient of iron atoms with N2, air, CO2, and He target gases for impact velocities >20 km/s, and are reported by Thomas et al. [Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 3645 (2016)]. The ablation chamber is also equipped with four optical ports that allow for the detection of the light emitted by the ablating particle. A multichannel photomultiplier tube system is used to observe the ablation process with a spatial and temporal resolution of 0.64 cm and 90 ns. The preliminary results indicate that it is possible to calculate the velocity of the ablating particle from the optical observations, and in conjunction with the spatially resolved charge measurements allow for experimental validation of ablation models in future studies.