Global inventory and characterization of pyroclastic deposits on Mercury: New insights into pyroclastic activity from MESSENGER orbital data
We present new observations of pyroclastic deposits on the surface of Mercury from data acquired during the orbital phase of the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission. The global analysis of pyroclastic deposits brings the total number of such identified features from 40 to 51. Some 90% of pyroclastic deposits are found within impact craters. The locations of most pyroclastic deposits appear to be unrelated to regional smooth plains deposits, except some deposits cluster around the margins of smooth plains, similar to the relation between many lunar pyroclastic deposits and lunar maria. A survey of the degradation state of the impact craters that host pyroclastic deposits suggests that pyroclastic activity occurred on Mercury over a prolonged interval. Measurements of surface reflectance by MESSENGER indicate that the pyroclastic deposits are spectrally distinct from their surrounding terrain, with higher reflectance values, redder (i.e., steeper) spectral slopes, and a downturn at wavelengths shorter than ~400 nm (i.e., in the near-ultraviolet region of the spectrum). Three possible causes for these distinctive characteristics include differences in transition metal content, physical properties (e.g., grain size), or degree of space weathering from average surface material on Mercury. The strength of the near-ultraviolet downturn varies among spectra of pyroclastic deposits and is correlated with reflectance at visible wavelengths. We suggest that this interdeposit variability in reflectance spectra is the result of either variable amounts of mixing of the pyroclastic deposits with underlying material or inherent differences in chemical and physical properties among pyroclastic deposits.