Variations in the abundance of iron on Mercury's surface from MESSENGER X-Ray Spectrometer observations
We present measurements of Mercury's surface composition from the analysis of MESSENGER X-Ray Spectrometer data acquired during 55 large solar flares, which each provide a statistically significant detection of Fe X-ray fluorescence. The Fe/Si data display a clear dependence on phase angle, for which the results are empirically corrected. Mercury's surface has a low total abundance of Fe, with a mean Fe/Si ratio of ∼0.06 (equivalent to ∼1.5 wt% Fe). The absolute Fe/Si values are subject to a number of systematic uncertainties, including the phase-angle correction and possible mineral mixing effects. Individual Fe/Si measurements have an intrinsic error of ∼10%. Observed Fe/Si values display small variations (significant at two standard deviations) from the planetary average value across large regions in Mercury's southern hemisphere. Larger differences are observed between measured Fe/Si values from more spatially resolved footprints on volcanic smooth plains deposits in the northern hemisphere and from those in surrounding terrains. Fe is most likely contained as a minor component in sulfide phases (e.g., troilite, niningerite, daubréelite) and as Fe metal, rather than within mafic silicates. Variations in surface reflectance (i.e., differences in overall reflectance and spectral slope) across Mercury are unlikely to be caused by variations in the abundance of Fe.