The Brazil nut effect and its application to asteroids

Soko Matsumura (Lead / Corresponding author), Derek C. Richardson, Patrick Michel, Stephen R. Schwartz, Ronald-Louis Ballouz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Out of the handful of asteroids that have been imaged, some have distributions of blocks that are not easily explained. In this paper, we investigate the possibility that seismic shaking leads to the size sorting of particles in asteroids. In particular, we focus on the so-called Brazil nut effect (BNE) that separates large particles from small ones under vibrations. We study the BNE over a wide range of parameters by using the N-body code PKDGRAV, and find that the effect is largely insensitive to the coefficients of restitution, but sensitive to friction constants and oscillation speeds. Agreeing with the previous results, we find that convection drives the BNE, where the intruder rises to the top of the particle bed. For the wide-cylinder case, we also observe a 'whale' effect, where the intruder follows the convective current and does not stay at the surface. We show that the non-dimensional critical conditions for the BNE agree well with previous studies. We also show that the BNE is scalable for low-gravity environments and that the rise speed of an intruder is proportional to the square root of the gravitational acceleration. Finally, we apply the critical conditions to observed asteroids, and find that the critical oscillation speeds are comparable to the seismic oscillation speeds that are expected from non-destructive impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3368-3380
Number of pages13
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Early online date8 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014


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