Crustal properties of Mercury by morphometric analysis of multi-ring basins on the Moon and Mars

Laramie V. Potts, Ralph R.B. von Frese, C. K. Shum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


We use satellite altitude free-air and terrain gravity correlations to differentiate regional variations in crustal viscosity and transient cavity diameters of impact basins on the Moon and Mars that we combine with surface roughness for a rheological assessment of the crust of Mercury. For the Moon and Mars, we separate the free-air anomalies into terrain-correlated and terrain-decorrelated components using the spectral properties of the free-air and computed terrain gravity effects. Adjusting the terrain effects for the terrain-correlated anomalies yields compensated terrain effects that we evaluate for crustal thickness variations of the impact basins. We interpret the terrain-correlated anomalies for uncompensated elements of the crustal thickness variations that we find are strongly correlated with the distribution of basin rings from photogeologic analyses. Hence, we estimate the transient cavity diameter from the innermost diameter of the gravity-inferred rings. Comparing these diameters with the related crustal thickness estimates clearly differentiates regional variations in the crustal rheologies. For the Moon, the analysis points to a farside crust that was significantly more rigid than the nearside crust during bombardment time. For Mars, the growth in transient cavity diameters with apparent crustal age also reflects increased viscosity due to crustal cooling. These results are also consistent with local estimates of surface roughness developed from the root-mean-squared topography over 64 × 64° patches centered on the basins. Hence for Mercury where gravity observations are lacking, rheological inferences on its crust may result from comparing photometric estimates of transient cavity diameter and local surface roughness with the lunar and martian estimates. These results for the Beethoven Basin, a typical multi-ring impact feature of Mercury, suggest that the viscosity of the mercurian crust was relatively great during bombardment time. This enhanced rigidity, despite crustal temperatures that were probably much hotter than those of the Moon and Mars, may reflect an extremely dry crust for Mercury in its early development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1197-1207
Number of pages11
JournalMeteoritics and Planetary Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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