The global distribution of pyroclastic deposits on Mercury: The view from MESSENGER flybys 13

Laura Kerber, James W. Head, David T. Blewett, Sean C. Solomon, Lionel Wilson, Scott L. Murchie, Mark Robinson, Brett W. Denevi, Deborah L. Domingue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


We present a global survey of candidate pyroclastic deposits on Mercury, derived from images obtained during MESSENGER flybys 13 that provided near-global coverage at resolutions between 5 and 0.5 km/pixel. Thirty-five deposits were identified and characterized and are located principally on the floors of craters, along rims of craters, and along the edge of the Caloris basin. Deposits are commonly centered on rimless, often irregularly shaped pits, mostly between 5 and 45 km in diameter. The deposits identified are generally similar in morphology and absolute reflectance to lunar pyroclastic deposits. Spectrally the deposits appear brighter and redder than background Mercury terrain. On the basis of the available coverage, the candidate pyroclastic deposits appear to be essentially globally distributed. The diameters of the deposits, when mapped to lunar gravity conditions, are larger than their lunar counterparts, implying that more abundant volatiles were present during the typical eruptive process than on the Moon. These observations indicate that if these deposits resulted from hawaiian-style eruptions, the volatile contents required would be between ∼1600 and 16,000 ppm CO or an equivalent value of H2O, CO2, SO2, or H2S (for a more oxidizing interior), or N2, S2, CS2, S 2Cl, Cl, Cl2, or COS (for a more reducing interior). These abundances are much greater than those predicted by existing models for Mercurys formation. An apparent lack of small deposits, compared with the Moon, may be due to resolution effects, a topic that can be further assessed during the orbital phase of the MESSENGER mission. These results provide a framework within which orbital observations by MESSENGER and the future BepiColombo mission can be analyzed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1895-1909
Number of pages15
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Mercury
  • Pits
  • Pyroclastic
  • Volatile
  • Volcanism
  • Volcanoes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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