The Chaotic Terrains of Mercury Reveal a History of Planetary Volatile Retention and Loss in the Innermost Solar System
Mercury's images obtained by the 1974 Mariner 10 flybys show extensive cratered landscapes degraded into vast knob fields, known as chaotic terrain (AKA hilly and lineated terrain). For nearly half a century, it was considered that these terrains formed due to catastrophic quakes and ejecta fallout produced by the antipodal Caloris basin impact. Here, we present the terrains' first geologic examination based on higher spatial resolution MESSENGER (MErcury Surface Space ENvironment GEochemistry and Ranging) imagery and laser altimeter topography. Our surface age determinations indicate that their development persisted until ~1.8 Ga, or ~2 Gyrs after the Caloris basin formed. Furthermore, we identified multiple chaotic terrains with no antipodal impact basins; hence a new geological explanation is needed. Our examination of the Caloris basin's antipodal chaotic terrain reveals multi-kilometer surface elevation losses and widespread landform retention, indicating an origin due to major, gradual collapse of a volatile-rich layer. Crater interior plains, possibly lavas, share the chaotic terrains' age, suggesting a development associated with a geothermal disturbance above intrusive magma bodies, which best explains their regionality and the enormity of the apparent volume losses involved in their development. Furthermore, evidence of localized, surficial collapse, might reflect a complementary, and perhaps longer lasting, devolatilization history by solar heating.