Pitted Terrain on Vesta and Implications for the Presence of Volatiles

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Science  20 Sep 2012:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1225374

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We investigate the origin of unusual pitted terrain on asteroid Vesta, revealed in images from the Dawn spacecraft. Pitted terrain is characterized by irregular rimless depressions found in and around impact craters, with a distinct morphology not observed on other airless bodies. Similar terrain is associated with numerous martian craters, where pits are thought to form through degassing of volatile-bearing material heated by the impact. Pitted terrain on Vesta may have formed in a similar manner, suggesting that portions of the surface contain a relatively large volatile component. Exogenic materials, such as water-rich carbonaceous chondrites, may be the source of volatiles, suggesting that impactor materials are preserved locally in relatively high abundance on Vesta and that impactor composition has played an important role in shaping the asteroid's geology.

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