Abstract

Images acquired by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft have revealed the morphology of frozen volatiles in Mercury’s permanently shadowed polar craters and provide insight into the mode of emplacement and evolution of the polar deposits. The images show extensive, spatially continuous regions with distinctive reflectance properties. A site within Prokofiev crater identified as containing widespread surface water ice exhibits a cratered texture that resembles the neighboring sunlit surface except for its uniformly higher reflectance, indicating that the surficial ice was emplaced after formation of the underlying craters. In areas where water ice is inferred to be present but covered by a thin layer of dark, organic-rich volatile material, regions with uniformly lower reflectance extend to the edges of the shadowed areas and terminate with sharp boundaries. The sharp boundaries indicate that the volatile deposits at Mercury’s poles are geologically young, relative to the time scale for lateral mixing by impacts, and either are restored at the surface through an ongoing process or were delivered to the planet recently.

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