From regolith to rock by shock

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A model for shock-lithification of terrestrial and lunar regolith is proposed that accounts for: (1) observed petrographic properties and densities of shock-lithified material from missile impact craters at White Sands, New Mexico and from Meteor Crater, Arizona; (2) observed petrographic textures of lunar soil and lunar soil analogues experimentally shocked to known pressures in laboratory experiments; (3) theoretical calculations of the behavior of air and water under shock compression; and (4) measured Hugoniot and release adiabat data on dry and wet terrestrial soils and lunar regolith. In this model it is proposed that air or an air-water mixture initially in the pores of terrestrial soil affects the behavior of the soil-air-water system under shock-loading. Shock-lithified rocks found at Meteor Crater are classified as 'strongly lithified' and 'weakly lithified' on the basis of their strength in hand specimen; only weakly lithified rocks are found at the missile impact craters. These qualitative strength properties are related to the mechanisms of bonding in the rocks. The densities of weakly lithified samples are directly related to the pressures to which they were shock-loaded. A comparison of the petrographic textures and densities of weakly lithified samples with textures and densities of 'regolith' shock-loaded to known pressures suggests that weakly lithified terrestrial samples formed at pressures well under 100 kb, probably under 50 kb. If terrestrial soils are shock-loaded to pressures between 100 and 200 kb by impact events of short duration, the pore pressure due to hot air or air-water mixtures exceeds the strength of the weak lithification mechanisms and fragmentation, rather than lithification, occurs. At pressures above 200 kb, lithification can occur because the formation of glass provides a lithification mechanism which has sufficient strength to withstand the pore pressure. During shock-lithification of lunar regolith at pressures below 50 kb, the material is compressed to intrinsic crystal density and remains at approximately that density upon release from the shocked state. It is proposed, however, that at pressures in excess of 50 kb, the release of trapped volatiles from lunar soil grains into fractures causes an expansion of the regolith during unloading from the shocked state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-320
Number of pages20
JournalThe Moon
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Mar 1 1975
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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