In preparation for the 2019 January 1 encounter between the New Horizons spacecraft and the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, we provide estimates of the expected impact crater surface density on the Kuiper Belt object. Using the observed crater fields on Charon and Pluto down to the resolution limit of the 2015 New Horizons flyby of those bodies and estimates of the orbital distribution of the crater-forming projectiles, we calculate the number of craters per unit area formed as a function of the time a surface on 2014 MU69 has been exposed to bombardment. We find that if the shallow crater size distribution from roughly 1-15 km exhibited on Pluto and Charon is indeed due to the sizes of Kuiper Belt projectiles, 2014 MU69 should exhibit a surface that is only lightly cratered below 1 km scale, despite being bombarded for ∼4 billion years. Its surface should therefore be more clearly indicative of its accretionary environment. In addition, this object may be the first observed for which the majority of the bombardment is from exogenic projectiles moving at less than or near the speed of sound in the target materials, implying morphologies more akin to secondary craters elsewhere in the solar system. Lastly, if the shallow Kuiper Belt size distribution implied from the Pluto and Charon imaging is confirmed at 2014 MU69, then we conclude that this size distribution is a preserved relic of its state ≃4.5 Gyr ago and provides a direct constraint on the planetesimal formation process itself.
The Astrophysical Journal
- Pub Date:
- February 2019
- Kuiper Belt objects: individual: 2014 MU69;
- planets and satellites: surfaces;
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
- V2. Incorrect Fig 1 altered. Submitted to ApJ Letters Dec 21/2018. 4 figures, 1 Table