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      The formation mechanism of 4179 Toutatis' elongated bi-lobed structure in a close Earth encounter scenario


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          The optical images of near-Earth asteroid 4179 Toutatis acquired by Chang'e-2 spacecraft show that Toutatis has an elongated contact binary configuration, with the contact point located along the long axis. We speculate that such configuration may have resulted from a low-speed impact between two components. In this work, we performed a series of numerical simulations and compared the results with the optical images, to examine the mechanism and better understand the formation of Toutatis. Herein we propose an scenario that an assumed separated binary precursor could undergo a close encounter with Earth, leading to an impact between the primary and secondary, and the elongation is caused by Earth's tide. The precursor is assumed to be a doubly synchronous binary with a semi-major axis of 4 \(R_p\) (radius of primary) and the two components are represented as spherical cohesionless self-gravitating granular aggregates. The mutual orbits are simulated in a Monte Carlo routine to provide appropriate parameters for our \emph{N}-body simulations of impact and tidal distortion. We employ the \emph{pkdgrav} package with a soft-sphere discrete element method (SSDEM) to explore the entire scenarios. The results show that contact binary configurations are natural outcomes under this scenario, whereas the shape of the primary is almost not affected by the impact of the secondary. However, our simulations further provide an elongated contact binary configuration best-matching to the shape of Toutatis at an approaching distance \(r_p\) = 1.4 \(\sim\) 1.5 \(R_e\) (Earth radius), indicative of a likely formation scenario for configurations of Toutatis-like elongated contact binaries.

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          19 April 2018


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          15 pages, 12 figures, accepted to MNRAS

          Planetary astrophysics


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