Occurrence and mechanisms of impact melt emplacement at small lunar craters

Julie D. Stopar, B. Ray Hawke, Mark Robinson, Brett W. Denevi, Thomas A. Giguere, Steven D. Koeber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Using observations from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), we assess the frequency and occurrence of impact melt at simple craters less than 5. km in diameter. Nine-hundred-and-fifty fresh, randomly distributed impact craters were identified for study based on their maturity, albedo, and preservation state. The occurrence, frequency, and distribution of impact melt deposits associated with these craters, particularly ponded melt and lobate flows, are diagnostic of melt emplacement mechanisms. Like larger craters, those smaller than a few kilometers in diameter often exhibit ponded melt on the crater floor as well as lobate flows near the crater rim crest. The morphologies of these deposits suggest gravity-driven flow while the melt was molten. Impact melt deposits emplaced as veneers and "sprays", thin layers of ejecta that drape other crater materials, indicate deposition late in the cratering process; the deposits of fine sprays are particularly sensitive to degradation. Exterior melt deposits found near the rims of a few dozen craters are distributed asymmetrically around the crater and are rare at craters less than 2. km in diameter. Pre-existing topography plays a role in the occurrence and distribution of these melt deposits, particularly for craters smaller than 1. km in diameter, but does not account for all observed asymmetries in impact melt distribution. The observed relative abundance and frequency of ponded melt and flows in and around simple lunar craters increases with crater diameter, as was previously predicted from models. However, impact melt deposits are found more commonly at simple lunar craters (i.e., those less than a few kilometers in diameter) than previously expected. Ponded melt deposits are observed in roughly 15% of fresh craters smaller than 300. m in diameter and 80% of fresh craters between 600. m and 5. km in diameter. Furthermore, melt deposits are observed at roughly twice as many non-mare craters than at mare craters. We infer that the distributions and occurrences of impact melt are strongly influenced by impact velocity and angle, target porosity, pre-existing topography, and degradation. Additionally, areally small and volumetrically thin melt deposits are sensitive to mixing with solid debris and/or burial during the modification stage of impact cratering as well as post-cratering degradation. Thus, the production of melt at craters less than ~800. m in diameter is likely greater than inferred from the present occurrence of melt deposits, which is rapidly affected by ongoing degradation processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-357
Number of pages21
StatePublished - Nov 5 2014


  • Cratering
  • Impact processes
  • Moon, surface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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