Gullies and Lobate Deposits as Geomorphological Evidence for Impact-induced Transient Water Flow and Localized, Buried Ice-bearing Deposits on Vesta.
Friday, 19 December 2014
Vesta, the second most massive asteroid, has long been perceived as anhydrous. However, recent studies suggesting the localized presence of hydrated minerals and past sub-surface water have challenged this perception (e.g. Sarafian et al., 2013; De Sanctis et al., 2012; Prettyman et al., 2012; McCord et al. 2012; Reddy et al. 2012; Treiman et al, 2004). Herein we show evidence that transient water flowed on the surface, in a debris-flow-like process, and left distinctive geomorphologic features. Based on analysis of ~20 m/ pixel images obtained by Dawn, we identify a class of locally occurring, interconnected and curvilinear systems of gullies in the walls of young (< 100s Ma) impact craters, ending in lobate deposits near the crater floors. As curvilinear systems only occur within impact craters, we propose that they formed by a particulate-dominated transient flow of water (≤ 26 minutes) that was released from buried ice-bearing deposits by impact-induced heating. Our interpretation is in accordance with the occurrence of pitted terrain on lobate deposits and crater floors. Pitted terrain is interpreted to result from the degassing of volatiles (Denevi et al., 2012). We also identify linear gully systems, which are morphologically distinct from the curvilinear systems, and are interpreted to form by dry flow of material. Craters containing curvilinear systems are clustered in two regions of Vesta’s surface, whereas linear systems are evenly distributed. This indicates that the proposed buried ice-bearing deposits are likely localized in extent. Together with the newly expanded understanding of the distribution and behavior of water in the asteroid belt (e.g. Küppers et al., 2014; Hsieh & Jewitt, 2006), our results support the new paradigm that there is a continuum of small bodies in the solar system with many intermediate states of hydration. The varied hydrologic processes that occur within this new paradigm suggest the evolution of our solar system is more complex than previously thought.