Moon-Mercury: Large impact structures, isostasy and average crustal viscosity

Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors

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DOI: 10.1016/0031-9201(77)90031-0



Thirty-five craters and basins larger than 200 km in diameter are recognized on the imaged portion (45%) of Mercury. If the unimaged portion of the planet is similarly cratered, a total of 78 such impact features may be present. Sixty-two craters and basins 200 km in diameter are recognized on the moon, a body with only half the cross-sectional area of Mercury. If surface areas are considered, however, Mercury is cratered only 70% as densely as the moon. The density of impact craters with diameters greater than 400 km on Mercury is only 30% of that on the moon, and for craters with diameters between 400 and 700 km, the density on Mercury is only 21% of the lunar crater density. The size-frequency distribution curve for the large Mercurian craters follows the same cumulative -2 slope as the lunar curve but lies well below the 10% surface saturation level characteristic of the lunar curve. This is taken as evidence that the old heavily cratered terrain on Mercury is, at least presently, not in a state of cratering equilibrium. The reduced density of large craters and basins on Mercury relative to the moon could be either a function of the crater-production rates on these bodies or an effect of different crustal histories. Resurfacing of the planet after the basin-forming period is ruled out by the presence of 54 craters and basins 100 km in diameter and larger (on the imaged portion of Mercury) that have either well-defined or poorly-defined secondary-crater fields. Total isostatic compensation of impact craters ???800 km in diameter indicates that the average viscosity of the Mercurian crust over the past 4+ aeons was the same as that for the moon (???1026.5 P). This calculated viscosity and the distribution of large craters and basins suggest that either the very early crustal viscosity on Mercury was less than that of the moon and the present viscosity greater, or the differences in large crater populations on the two bodies is indeed the result of variations in rates of crater production. ?? 1977.

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Moon-Mercury: Large impact structures, isostasy and average crustal viscosity
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Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors
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Amsterdam, Netherlands
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