Dr. Adrienne Dove


The frost line in a planetary system represents the distance from the central star inside of which conditions are too warm for ice to form, while beyond this line it will be stable. When an icy object passes that line heading toward the Sun it will begin to sublimate and outgas, potentially causing mass loss and surface changes. One example is surface failures, which can lead to material being removed from the object. Evidence of this has been seen on cometary surfaces, where surfaces often show structures that appear to have suffered various mechanical failures like cracking and landslides. By mixing water ice with sand and using a vacuum chamber to simulate the vacuum conditions of space, we monitored what happened as sublimation caused an evolution of the ice-sand mixture. Failures in the sample were observed from the top and the side by watching time-lapse videos of over 24 hour period created during the experiment run. We observed that the samples with more total material tended to show more activity and that samples with higher water concentrations continued to show “Erosion” features for a longer period of time. Additionally, these higher water concentration samples showed larger failure features later in the runs, when the sample strength was much lower. While these were proof-of-concept experiments, the dependencies and observational notes may be applied to the interpretation of observations of comets in the Solar System.

About the Author

Christopher Cox graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a Physics degree and with minors in Math and Music. He is currently a senior researcher at the Center for Microgravity Research where he started in September 2015 as an undergraduate researcher. He has also worked on several laboratory experiments and experiments on reduced-gravity research flights.


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.