Mercury's Hollows: New Information on Distribution and Morphology from MESSENGER Observations at Low Altitude
Monday, 15 December 2014: 2:55 PM
MESSENGER's orbital mission at Mercury led to the discovery of an unusual landform not known from other airless rocky bodies of the Solar System. Hollows are irregularly shaped, shallow, rimless depressions, often occurring in clusters and with high-reflectance interiors and halos. The fresh appearance of hollows suggests that they are relatively young features. For example, hollows are uncratered, and talus aprons downslope of hollows in certain cases appear to be covering small impact craters (100–200 in diameter). Hence, some hollows may be actively forming at present. The characteristics of hollows are suggestive of formation via destruction of a volatile-bearing phase (possibly one or more sulfides) through solar heating, micrometeoroid bombardment, and/or ion impact. Previous analysis showed that hollows are associated with low-reflectance material (LRM), a color unit identified from global color images. The material hosting hollows has often been excavated from depth by basin or crater impacts. Hollows are small features (tens of meters to several kilometers), so their detection and characterization with MESSENGER’s global maps have been limited. MESSENGER's low-altitude orbits provide opportunities for collection of images at high spatial resolutions, which reveal new occurrences of hollows and offer views of hollows with unprecedented detail. As of this writing, we have examined more than 21,000 images with pixel sizes <20 m and incidence angles <85°. Hollows were found in 559 images. Locations of the hollows (e.g., crater floor, rim, central peak, plains) were recorded. Shadow-length measurements were made on 280 images, yielding the depths of 1343 individual hollows. The mean depth is 30 m, with a standard deviation of 17 m. We also explored correlations between the geographic locations of hollows and maps provided by the MESSENGER geochemical sensors (X-Ray, Gamma-Ray, and Neutron Spectrometers), including the abundances of Al/Si, Ca/Si, Fe/Si, K, Mg/Si, and S/Si, as well as total neutron cross-section. No clear compositional trends emerged; it is likely that any true compositional preference for terrain that hosts hollows is obscured by the very large difference in scale between the resolution of the geochemical maps (hundreds of kilometers) and the dimensions of the hollows themselves.