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Channel Vision

Thursday 28 June 2012

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mission: MESSENGER.

Instrument: Mercury Dual Imaging System.

This image is a portion of the MDIS global mosaic basemap that was acquired during MESSENGER’s first year in orbit. Of particular note is the flat-floored, southeast-trending valley in the center of the image, which starts near several depressions to the top left of the image, and connects with the Kofi crater (center right).

This valley is interpreted by MESSENGER team scientists as a broad lava channel, formed by the mechanical and thermal erosion of Mercury’s surface by hot, low-viscosity, quickly-flowing lavas. The pits to the top left may be source vents for the lava flows that formed the channel; these flows then filled the Kofi crater at the channel’s other end. Another lava channel, with a similar southeast trend, lies at the top right of the image, and there is a total of five broad channels in this region.

Determining how these channels formed, how rapidly they shaped the landscape, and how they relate to other volcanic features on Mercury — such as expansive smooth plains nearby — is important in understanding the role of volcanism on Mercury. Moreover, similar broad channels do not appear to exist elsewhere on Mercury, making this region a particularly interesting locale.

Université Paris-Sud 11 Faculté des Sciences GEOPS CNRS
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