Caloris Basin: An Enhanced Source for Potassium in Mercury's Atmosphere

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Science  07 Sep 1990:
Vol. 249, Issue 4973, pp. 1140-1143
DOI: 10.1126/science.249.4973.1140


Enhanced abundances of neutral potassium (K) in the atmosphere of Mercury have been found above the longitude range containing Caloris Basin. Results of a large data set including six elongations of the planet between June 1986 and January 1988 show typical K column abundances of ∼5.4 x 108 K atoms/cm2. During the observing period in October 1987, when Caloris Basin was in view, the typical K column was ∼2.7 x 109 K atoms/cm2. Another large value (2.1 x 109 K atoms/cm2) was seen over the Caloris antipode in January 1988. This enhancement is consistent with an increased source of K from the well-fractured crust and regolith associated with this large impact basin. The phenomenon is localized because at most solar angles, thermal alkali atoms cannot move more than a few hundred kilometers from their source before being lost to ionization by solar ultraviolet radiation.