The Geological Nature of Dark Material on Vesta and Implications for the Subsurface Structure
Deposits of dark material appear on Vesta’s surface as features of relatively low-albedo in the visible wavelength range of Dawn’s camera and spectrometer. Mixed with the regolith and partially excavated by younger impacts, the material is exposed as individual layered outcrops in crater walls or ejecta patches, having been uncovered and broken up by the impact. Dark fans on crater walls and dark deposits on crater floors are the result of gravity-driven mass wasting triggered by steep slopes and impact seismicity. The fact that dark material is mixed with impact ejecta indicates that it has been processed together with the ejected material. Some small craters display continuous dark ejecta similar to lunar dark-halo impact craters, indicating that the impact excavated the material from beneath a higher-albedo surface. The asymmetric distribution of dark material in impact craters and ejecta suggests non-continuous distribution in the local subsurface. Some positive-relief dark edifices appear to be impact-sculpted hills with dark material distributed over the hill slopes.
Dark features inside and outside of craters are in some places arranged as linear outcrops along scarps or as dark streaks perpendicular to the local topography. The spectral characteristics of the dark material resemble that of Vesta’s regolith. Dark material is distributed unevenly across Vesta’s surface with clusters of all types of dark material exposures. On a local scale, some craters expose or are associated with dark material, while others in the immediate vicinity do not show evidence for dark material. While the variety of surface exposures of dark material and their different geological correlations with surface features, as well as their uneven distribution, indicate a globally inhomogeneous distribution in the subsurface, the dark material seems to be correlated with the rim and ejecta of the older Veneneia south polar basin structure. The origin of the dark material is still being debated, however, the geological analysis suggests that it is exogenic, from carbon-rich low-velocity impactors, rather than endogenic, from freshly exposed mafic material or melt, exposed or created by impacts.