Earth has experienced a large number of impacts, from the cratering events that may have caused mass extinctions to the enormous impact believed to have formed the Moon. A new study examines whether our planet’s impact history is typical for Earth-like worlds.
The final stages of terrestrial planet formation are thought to be dominated by giant impacts of bodies in the protoplanetary disk. During this stage, protoplanets smash into one another and accrete, greatly influencing the growth, composition, and habitability of the final planets.
There are two major challenges when simulating this N-body planet formation. The first is fragmentation: since computational time scales as N^2, simulating lots of bodies that split into many more bodies is very computationally intensive. For this reason, fragmentation is usually ignored; simulations instead assume perfect accretion during collisions.