Mapping Mercury’s Surface Composition at High Spatial Resolution with the MESSENGER X-Ray Spectrometer
Monday, 15 December 2014: 2:40 PM
Previous global maps of Mg/Si and Al/Si and partial maps of S/Si, Ca/Si, and Fe/Si on Mercury’s surface derived from orbital data acquired by the MESSENGER X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS) have been highly variable in resolution because of MESSENGER’s eccentric orbit and high northern periapsis. The typical spatial resolution at northern latitudes in earlier maps was 200–500 km, a scale that allowed large geochemical terranes to be defined and chemical measurements to be made of features hundreds of kilometers in extent, but so far there have been very few analyses at smaller scales. MESSENGER is now orbiting at the lowest periapsis altitudes so far in the mission, and XRS measurements can thus be made at substantially improved resolution. For example, measurements with resolutions <100 km constituted 1% of the northern-hemisphere observations that were used to make the previous maps, but they make up 31% of those obtained in May and June of 2014. Preliminary analysis of these higher-resolution XRS data confirms the broad-scale geochemical features that have already been identified, but also reveals smaller-scale chemical heterogeneities. For instance, targeted XRS measurements indicate that the high-reflectance smooth plains deposit, about 125 km in extent, at the center of the Rachmaninoff basin has Mg/Si=0.6, higher than for other smooth plains deposits with similar reflectance characteristics (for which Mg/Si is typically <0.4), but similar to the darker material surrounding the unit. Although the high-resolution maps that we continue to generate have limited coverage, they reveal substantial chemical heterogeneity at the 100-km scale both within the northern volcanic plains and within the large high-Mg region that has been previously identified. In many cases, the chemical heterogeneity we observe is closely associated with spatial variations in spectral reflectance properties. Continued observations at ever lower altitudes will allow chemical mapping on Mercury at unprecedented resolution and will provide critical information for the study of the planet’s geological evolution.