Flood Volcanism in the Northern High Latitudes of Mercury Revealed by MESSENGER

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Science  30 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6051, pp. 1853-1856
DOI: 10.1126/science.1211997

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MESSENGER observations from Mercury orbit reveal that a large contiguous expanse of smooth plains covers much of Mercury’s high northern latitudes and occupies more than 6% of the planet’s surface area. These plains are smooth, embay other landforms, are distinct in color, show several flow features, and partially or completely bury impact craters, the sizes of which indicate plains thicknesses of more than 1 kilometer and multiple phases of emplacement. These characteristics, as well as associated features, interpreted to have formed by thermal erosion, indicate emplacement in a flood-basalt style, consistent with x-ray spectrometric data indicating surface compositions intermediate between those of basalts and komatiites. The plains formed after the Caloris impact basin, confirming that volcanism was a globally extensive process in Mercury’s post–heavy bombardment era.

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