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Dark Spots on Mercury: A Distinctive Low-Reflectance Material and Its Relation to Hollows

Xiao, Zhiyong; Strom, Robert G.; Blewett, David T.; Byrne, Paul K.; Solomon, Sean C.; Murchie, Scott L.; Sprague, Ann L.; Domingue, Deborah L.; Helbert, Jörn

Orbital images acquired by the Mercury, Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal a distinctive low-reflectance material on the surface of Mercury. Such material occurs in small, isolated, and thin surficial units. We term these features “dark spots.” Dark spots have the lowest average reflectance yet documented on the planet. In every case observed at sufficiently high resolution, dark spots feature hollows at their centers. Not all hollows, however, are surrounded by a dark spot. Dark spots have been found on low-reflectance smooth plains, intercrater plains, heavily cratered terrain, and impact craters at almost all longitudes on Mercury, but they have not been documented on high-reflectance smooth plains material. Dark spots are one of the youngest endogenic features on Mercury, and some postdate craters with distinctive rays. Sulfides may be the phase responsible for the low albedo of dark spot material. We propose that dark spots form during the initial stages of hollow formation, perhaps in a manner similar to intense outgassing events that feature exit velocities in excess of 100 m/s. Such outgassing could contemporaneously produce a depression that constitutes an embryonic hollow. Under this scenario, dark spot material is subsequently removed or modified by regolith gardening or other surface processes on time scales shorter than the lifetime of the central hollow.


Also Published In

Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
American Geophysical Union
Published Here
January 22, 2014