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Objects such as asteroids and planetary satellites are called minor planets. Ongoing research suggests that these objects may not be solid, but, rather, be made of sand or pieces of rock that stay together because of self gravity. Figure 1. shows the image of asteroid Itokawa taken by the Japanese space probe Hayabusa. The image reveals Itokawa's surprisingly gravelly surface. This project aims to employ continuum mechanics and discrete element simulations to understand the behavior of these objects. This is crucial as India plans space missions to Moon, Mars, and even asteroids.
As part of this project, we will be extending an in-house discrete element code to planetary bodies. Figure 2 shows an example of how this code has been used recently to analyze segregation in a novel grain sorter. This code has been developed along with Jayant Singh of Chemical Engineering and our shared Ph.D. student Ashish Bhateja. Discrete elements simulations are computationally intensive, and part of the project's funding will be utilized to augment our lab's computational facilities.