Impact-related processes on Mercury and the Moon

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Impact craters are ubiquitous throughout the Solar System, formed by one of the principal processes responsible for surface modification of terrestrial planets and solid bodies (i.e., asteroids, icy moons). The

Impact craters are ubiquitous throughout the Solar System, formed by one of the principal processes responsible for surface modification of terrestrial planets and solid bodies (i.e., asteroids, icy moons). The impact cratering process is well studied, particularly on the Moon and Mercury, where the results remain uncomplicated by atmospheric effects, plate tectonics, or interactions with water and ices. Crater measurements, used to determine relative and absolute ages for geologic units by relating the cumulative crater frequency per unit area to radiometrically-determined ages from returned samples, are sensitive to the solar incidence angle of images used for counts. Earlier work is quantitatively improved by investigating this important effect and showing that absolute model ages are most accurately determined using images with incidence angles between 65° and 80°, and equilibrium crater diameter estimates are most accurate at ~80° incidence angle. A statistical method is developed using crater size-frequencies to distinguish lunar mare age units in the absence of spectral differences. Applied to the Moon, the resulting areal crater densities confidently identify expansive units with >300–500 my age differences, distinguish non-obvious secondaries, and determine that an area >1×104 km2 provides statistically robust crater measurements. This areal crater density method is also applied to the spectrally-homogeneous volcanic northern smooth plains (NSP) on Mercury. Although crater counts and observations of embayed craters indicate that the NSP experienced at least two resurfacing episodes, no observable age units are observed using areal crater density measurements, so smooth plains emplacement occurred over a relatively short timescale (<500 my). For the first time, the distribution of impact melt on Mercury and the Moon are compared at high resolution. Mercurian craters with diameters ≥30 km have a greater areal extent of interior melt deposits than similarly sized lunar craters, a result consistent with melt-generation model predictions. The effects of shaking on compositional sorting within a granular regolith are experimentally tested, demonstrating the possibility of mechanical segregation of particles in the lunar regolith. These results provide at least one explanation toward understanding the inconsistencies between lunar remote sensing datasets and are important for future spacecraft sample return missions.