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Global resurfacing of Mercury 4.0–4.1 billion years ago by heavy bombardment and volcanism

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Abstract

The most heavily cratered terrains on Mercury have been estimated to be about 4 billion years (Gyr) old1,2,3,4, but this was based on images of only about 45 per cent of the surface; even older regions could have existed in the unobserved portion. These terrains have a lower density of craters less than 100 km in diameter than does the Moon1,3,5, an observation attributed to preferential resurfacing on Mercury. Here we report global crater statistics of Mercury’s most heavily cratered terrains on the entire surface. Applying a recent model for early lunar crater chronology6and an updated dynamical extrapolation to Mercury7, we find that the oldest surfaces were emplaced just after the start of the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB) about 4.0–4.1 Gyr ago. Mercury’s global record of large impact basins8, which has hitherto not been dated, yields a similar surface age. This agreement implies that resurfacing was global and was due to volcanism, as previously suggested1,5. This activity ended during the tail of the LHB, within about 300–400 million years after the emplacement of the oldest terrains on Mercury. These findings suggest that persistent volcanism could have been aided by the surge of basin-scale impacts during this bombardment.

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Figure 1: The northern heavily cratered terrains of Mercury.
Figure 2: Comparison of Mercury cratering data with key lunar units.
Figure 3: Mercury and lunar crater chronologies.

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Acknowledgements

The contributions of S.M. and W.F.B. were supported by the NASA Lunar Science Institute (Center for Lunar Origin and Evolution at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado—NASA Grant NNA09DB32A; Center for Lunar Science and Exploration at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas). S.M. is grateful for being welcomed as a collaborator with the Geology Discipline Group of MESSENGER. C.R.C.’s contribution was supported by the MESSENGER Project. The MESSENGER Project is supported by the NASA Discovery Program under contracts NASW-00002 to the Carnegie Institution of Washington and NAS5-97271 to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

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S.M. and C.R.C. performed the new crater measurements. S.M. and W.F.B. computed the impact rates. C.I.F., J.W.H. and R.G.S. provided earlier crater catalogues. All authors contributed to a discussion of the results and their implications, and to writing and revising the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Simone Marchi.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary Figures1-4, Supplementary Table 1 and additional references. (PDF 1017 kb)

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Marchi, S., Chapman, C., Fassett, C. et al. Global resurfacing of Mercury 4.0–4.1 billion years ago by heavy bombardment and volcanism. Nature 499, 59–61 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12280

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