The transition from complex crater to peak-ring basin on Mercury: New observations from MESSENGER flyby data and constraints on basin formation models
The study of peak-ring basins and other impact crater morphologies transitional between complex craters and multi-ring basins is important to our understanding of the mechanisms for basin formation on the terrestrial planets. Mercury has the largest population, and the largest population per area, of peak-ring basins and protobasins in the inner solar system and thus provides important data for examining questions surrounding peak-ring basin formation. New flyby images from the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft have more than doubled the area of Mercury viewed at close range, providing nearly complete global coverage of the planet's surface when combined with flyby data from Mariner 10. We use this new near-global dataset to compile a catalog of peak-ring basins and protobasins on Mercury, including measurements of the diameters of the basin rim crest, interior ring, and central peak (if present). Our catalog increases the population of peak-ring basins by ̃150% and protobasins by ̃100% over previous catalogs, including 44 newly identified peak-ring basins (total=74) and 17 newly identified protobasins (total=32). A newly defined transitional basin type, the ringed peak-cluster basin (total=9), is also described. The new basin catalog confirms that Mercury has the largest population of peak-ring basins of the terrestrial planets and also places the onset rim-crest diameter for peak-ring basins at 126-26+33km, which is intermediate between the onset diameter for peak-ring basins on the Moon and those for the other terrestrial planets. The ratios of ring diameter to rim-crest diameter further emphasize that protobasins and peak-ring basins are parts of a continuum of basin morphologies relating to their processes of formation, in contrast to previous views that these forms are distinct. Comparisons of the predictions of peak-ring basin-formation models with the characteristics of the basin catalog for Mercury suggest that formation and modification of an interior melt cavity and nonlinear scaling of impact melt volume with crater diameter provide important controls on the development of peak rings. The relationship between impact-melt production and peak-ring formation is strengthened further by agreement between power laws fit to ratios of ring diameter to rim-crest diameter for peak-ring basins and protobasins and the power-law relation between the dimension of a melt cavity and the crater diameter. More detailed examination of Mercury's peak-ring basins awaits the planned insertion of the MESSENGER spacecraft into orbit about Mercury in 2011.