The apparent lack of lunar-like swirls on Mercury: Implications for the formation of lunar swirls and for the agent of space weathering

David T. Blewett, Brett W. Denevi, Mark Robinson, Carolyn M. Ernst, Michael E. Purucker, Sean C. Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Images returned by the MESSENGER spacecraft from the Mercury flybys have been examined to search for anomalous high-albedo markings similar to lunar swirls. Several features suggested to be swirls on the basis of Mariner 10 imaging (in the craters Handel and Lermontov) are seen in higher-resolution MESSENGER images to lack the characteristic morphology of lunar swirls. Although antipodes of large impact basins on the Moon are correlated with swirls, the antipodes of the large impact basins on Mercury appear to lack unusual albedo markings. The antipodes of Mercury's Rembrandt, Beethoven, and Tolstoj basins do not have surface textures similar to the " hilly and lineated" terrain found at the Caloris antipode, possibly because these three impacts were too small to produce obvious surface disturbances at their antipodes. Mercury does have a class of unusual high-reflectance features, the bright crater-floor deposits (BCFDs). However, the BCFDs are spectral outliers, not simply optically immature material, which implies the presence of material with an unusual composition or physical state. The BCFDs are thus not analogs to the lunar swirls. We suggest that the lack of lunar-type swirls on Mercury supports models for the formation of lunar swirls that invoke interaction between the solar wind and crustal magnetic anomalies (i.e., the solar-wind standoff model and the electrostatic dust-transport model) rather than those models of swirl formation that relate to cometary impact phenomena. If the solar-wind standoff hypothesis for lunar swirls is correct, it implies that the primary agent responsible for the optical effects of space weathering on the Moon is solar-wind ion bombardment rather than micrometeoroid impact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-246
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Magnetic fields
  • Mercury, Surface
  • Moon, Surface
  • Solar wind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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