Modification of Caloris ejecta blocks by long-lived mass-wasting: A volatile-driven process?

Wright, Jack; Conway, Susan J.; Morino, Costanza; Rothery, David A.; Balme, Matthew and Fassett, Caleb (2020). Modification of Caloris ejecta blocks by long-lived mass-wasting: A volatile-driven process? Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 549, article no. 116519.



The Caloris basin is the largest well-preserved impact basin on Mercury. As such, Caloris ejecta afford us an opportunity to study material from Mercury’s deep interior with remote sensing. We have made observations of the geomorphology, colour, distribution, and flank slopes of the circum-Caloris knobs. Our observations suggest that these circum-Caloris knobs are modified ejecta blocks from the Caloris impact. High-resolution MESSENGER images show that knobs are conical and relatively uncratered compared with the surrounding plains, which implies the knobs have undergone resurfacing. We have observed material that has sloughed off knobs superposing impact craters that demonstrably postdate the Caloris impact, which requires some knob modification to have been more recent. We have observed hollows, depressions in Mercury’s surface generally believed to have been caused by volatile-loss, on and closely associated with several knobs, which indicates that many knobs contain volatile material and that knob modification could extend into Mercury’s recent past. Our measurements show that knob flanks typically have slopes of ∼21°, which is steep for a mound of unconsolidated material that was originally emplaced ∼3.8 Ga. The conical shape of knobs, their steep slopes, the dearth of superposed craters on knobs, and knob superposition relationships with other landforms suggest that Caloris ejecta blocks of arbitrary original shape were modified into their present shapes by long-lived mass-wasting. Mass-wasting must have dominated over impact gardening, which would have produced domal morphologies only. We suggest that mass-wasting was probably driven by volatile-loss, in a manner analogous to terrestrial landforms called ‘molards’. If the circum-Caloris knobs are analogous to molards, then they represent a landform and a process hitherto undocumented on Mercury, with implications for the volatile content of the planet’s interior. These knobs therefore are prime targets for BepiColombo, which could search for fresh failures and volatile exposures in the knobs.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions