You are looking at 61-77 of 77 articles
The use and exploration of space by humans is historically implicated with international and national security. Space exploration itself was sparked, in part, by the race to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), and the strategic uses of space enable the global projection of force by major military powers. The recognition of space as a strategic domain spurred states to develop the initial laws and policies that govern space activities to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Space security, therefore, is a foundational concept to space law.
Since the beginning of the Space Age, the concept of security has morphed into a multivariate term, and contemporary space security concerns more than just securing states from the dangers of ICBMs. The prevalence of space technologies across society means that security issues connected to the space domain touch on a range of legal regimes. Specifically, space security law involves components of international peace and security, national security, human security, and the security of the space environment itself.
The subject of astronomy in folk tradition, or folk astronomy, requires some explication. It is, for instance, not the same as ethnoastronomy, which primarily studies the astronomical ideas of contemporary societies. However, the subject overlaps with archaeoastronomy when defined widely as the interdisciplinary study of prehistoric, ancient, and traditional astronomies worldwide within their cultural context that includes both written and archaeological records.
The most useful definition of “astronomy in folk tradition” might be “astronomy of the people or of the common man,” or even “lay astronomy,” left to us through tradition, where the term “astronomy” may, for further clarity, be replaced by “ideas and observations of the sky.” In any case, it is worth keeping in mind that the content of folk astronomy of one society may overlap with the content of established astronomy of another society at another time and place. Scientific ideas or theories have their roots in the past, even before the advent of any “experts.”
Folk astronomy of the past is often less accessible for historical studies than mainstream astronomy, especially in a society leaving few records or artifacts. Revealing sources may, however, be found by looking beyond the conventional. For instance, various sources on mythology and religion may give information on the astronomical and cosmological ideas of previous societies. Purportedly fictional literature, like the works of Dante and Chaucer, may also yield information of this kind, although they were not explicitly composed for that purpose.
But there are also writers who have deliberately written on the astronomical ideas of their society at their time, although their works were outside of the best known corpus and sometimes intended for common people. Two Old Norse examples are the 13th-century Norwegian King’s Mirror and the Icelandic 12th- to 14th-century material edited in the volume of Alfræði íslenzk II. Among other things, these sources treat phenomena that are not observable outside the subarctic region. A third example is the 14th–15th century North European Seebuch with practical information for seamen, partly linked to astronomy.
In any case, two types of folk astronomy can be distinguished: (a) practical astronomy that people use as a tool in daily life, for example, to determine the time of day or year, or for travel and navigation; (b) ideas related to cosmology or cosmogony, religion, or supernatural beliefs, which would neither imply practical uses nor consequences.
M.A. Ivanov and J.W. Head
This chapter reviews the conditions under which the basic landforms of Venus formed, interprets their nature, and analyzes their local, regional, and global age relationships. The strong greenhouse effect on Venus causes hyper-dry, almost stagnant near-surface environments. These conditions preclude water-driven, and suppress wind-related, geological processes; thus, the common Earth-like water-generated geological record of sedimentary materials does not currently form on Venus. Three geological processes are important on the planet: volcanism, tectonics, and impact cratering. The small number of impact craters on Venus (~1,000) indicates that their contribution to resurfacing is minor. Volcanism and tectonics are the principal geological processes operating on Venus during its observable geologic history.
Landforms of the volcanic and tectonic nature have specific morphologies, which indicate different modes of formation, and their relationships permit one to establish their relative ages. Analysis of these relationships at the global scale reveals that three distinct regimes of resurfacing comprise the observable geologic history of Venus: (1) the global tectonic regime, (2) the global volcanic regime, and (3) the network rifting-volcanism regime. During the earlier global tectonic regime, tectonic resurfacing dominated. Tectonic deformation at this time caused formation of strongly tectonized terrains such as tessera, and deformational belts. Exposures of these units comprise ~20% of the surface of Venus. The apparent beginning of the global tectonic regime is related to the formation of tessera, which is among the oldest units on Venus. The age relationships among the tessera structures indicate that this terrain is the result of crustal shortening. During the global volcanic regime, volcanism overwhelmed tectonic activity and caused formation of vast volcanic plains that compose ~60% of the surface of Venus. The plains show a clear stratigraphic sequence from older shield plains to younger regional plains. The distinctly different morphologies of the plains indicate different volcanic formation styles ranging from eruption through broadly distributed local sources of shield plains to the volcanic flooding of regional plains. The density of impact craters on units of the tectonic and volcanic regimes suggests that these regimes characterized about the first one-third of the visible geologic history of Venus. During this time, ~80%–85% of the surface of the planet was renovated. The network rifting-volcanism regime characterized the last two-thirds of the visible geologic history of Venus. The major components of the regime include broadly synchronous lobate plains and rift zones. Although the network rifting-volcanism regime characterized ~2/3 of the visible geologic history of Venus, only 15%–20% of the surface was resurfaced during this time. This means that the level of endogenous activity during this time has dropped by about an order of magnitude compared with the earlier regimes.
Paul K. Byrne
Mercury, like its inner Solar System planetary neighbors Venus, Mars, and the Moon, shows no evidence of having ever undergone plate tectonics. Nonetheless, the innermost planet boasts a long record of tectonic deformation. The most prominent manifestation of this history is a population of large scarps that occurs throughout the planet’s cratered terrains; some of these scarps rise kilometers above the surrounding landscape. Mercury’s smooth plains, the majority of which are volcanic and occupy over a quarter of the planet, abound with low-relief ridges. The scarps and ridges are underlain by thrust faults and point to a tectonic history dominated by crustal shortening. At least some of the shortening strain recorded by the ridges may reflect subsidence of the lavas in which they formed, but the widespread distribution of scarps attests to a planetwide process of global contraction, wherein Mercury experienced a reduction in volume as its interior cooled through time.
The onset of this phenomenon placed the lithosphere into a net state of horizontal compression, and accounts for why Mercury hosts only a few instances of extensional structures. These landforms, shallow troughs that form complex networks, occur almost wholly in volcanically flooded impact craters and basins and developed as those lavas cooled and thermally contracted. Tellingly, widespread volcanism on Mercury ended at around the same time the population of scarps began to form. Explosive volcanism endured beyond this point, but almost exclusively at sites of lithospheric weakness, where large faults penetrate deep into the interior. These observations are consistent with decades-old predictions that global contraction would shut off major volcanic activity, and illustrate how closely Mercury’s tectonic and volcanic histories are intertwined.
The tectonic character of Mercury is thus one of sustained crustal shortening with only localized extension, which started almost four billion years ago and extends into the geologically recent past. This character somewhat resembles that of the Moon, but differs substantially from those of Earth, Venus, or Mars. Mercury may represent how small rocky planets tectonically evolve and could provide a basis for understanding the geological properties of similarly small worlds in orbit around other stars.
The formation and evolution of our solar system (and planetary systems around other stars) are among the most challenging and intriguing fields of modern science. As the product of a long history of cosmic matter evolution, this important branch of astrophysics is referred to as stellar-planetary cosmogony. Interdisciplinary by way of its content, it is based on fundamental theoretical concepts and available observational data on the processes of star formation. Modern observational data on stellar evolution, disc formation, and the discovery of extrasolar planets, as well as mechanical and cosmochemical properties of the solar system, place important constraints on the different scenarios developed, each supporting the basic cosmogony concept (as rooted in the Kant-Laplace hypothesis). Basically, the sequence of events includes fragmentation of an original interstellar molecular cloud, emergence of a primordial nebula, and accretion of a protoplanetary gas-dust disk around a parent star, followed by disk instability and break-up into primary solid bodies (planetesimals) and their collisional interactions, eventually forming a planet.
Recent decades have seen major advances in the field, due to in-depth theoretical and experimental studies. Such advances have clarified a new scenario, which largely supports simultaneous stellar-planetary formation. Here, the collapse of a protosolar nebula’s inner core gives rise to fusion ignition and star birth with an accretion disc left behind: its continuing evolution resulting ultimately in protoplanets and planetary formation. Astronomical observations have allowed us to resolve in great detail the turbulent structure of gas-dust disks and their dynamics in regard to solar system origin. Indeed radio isotope dating of chondrite meteorite samples has charted the age and the chronology of key processes in the formation of the solar system. Significant progress also has been made in the theoretical study and computer modeling of protoplanetary accretion disk thermal regimes; evaporation/condensation of primordial particles depending on their radial distance, mechanisms of clustering, collisions, and dynamics. However, these breakthroughs are yet insufficient to resolve many problems intrinsically related to planetary cosmogony. Significant new questions also have been posed, which require answers. Of great importance are questions on how contemporary natural conditions appeared on solar system planets: specifically, why the three neighbor inner planets—Earth, Venus, and Mars—reveal different evolutionary paths.
While the moon naturally featured in Mediterranean cultures from time immemorial, principally noted in the earliest literature as a marker of time, time-dependent constructs such as the calendar, and time-related activities, awareness and recognition of the five visible planets came relatively late to the Greeks and thence to the Romans.
The moon underlies the local calendars of the Greeks, with documentary and literary evidence from the Late Bronze Age through the Imperial Roman period, and there are signs that the earliest Roman calendar also paid homage to the moon in its divisions of the month. However, although Homer in the 8th century BCE knows of a Morning and an Evening Star, he shows no indication of realizing that these are one and the same, the planet Venus. That particular identification may have come in the 6th century BCE, and it appears to have been not until the 4th century BCE that the Greeks recognized the other four planets visible to the naked eye—Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury. This awareness probably came via contact with Babylonian astronomy and astrology, where identification and observations of the planets had figured from the 2nd millennium BCE and served as a basis for astrological prognostications. But it is time, not astrology, that lies at the heart of Greek and Roman concerns with the moon and the planets. Indeed, the need to tell time accurately has been regarded as the fundamental motivation of Greek astronomy.
A major cultural issue that long engaged the Greeks was how to synchronize the incommensurate cycles of the moon and the sun for calendrical purposes. Given the apparent irregularities of their cycles, the planets might seem to offer no obvious help with regard to time measurement. Nonetheless they were included by Plato in the 4th century BCE in his cosmology, along with the sun and moon, as heavenly bodies created specifically to compute time. Astrology then provided a useful framework in which the sun, moon, planets, and stars all combined to enable the interpretation and forecasting of life events. It became necessary for the Greeks, and their successors the Romans, to be able to calculate as accurately as possible the positions of the heavenly bodies in order to determine readings of the past, present, and future.
Greek astronomy had always had a speculative aspect, as philosophers strove to make sense of the visible cosmos. A deep-seated assumption held by Greek astronomers, that the heavenly bodies moved in uniform, circular orbits, lead to a desire over the centuries to account for or explain away the observed irregularities of planetary motions with their stations and retrogradations. This intention “to save the phenomena,”— that is, to preserve the fundamental circularity—was said to have originated with Plato. While arithmetical schemes had sufficed in Babylonia for such calculation, it was a Greek innovation to devise increasingly complex geometric theories of circular motions (eccentrics and epicycles) in an effort to understand how the sun, moon, and planets moved, so as to place them more precisely in time and space.
John C. B. Papaloizou
The great diversity of extrasolar planetary systems has challenged our understanding of how planets form. During the formation process their orbits are modified while the protoplanetary disk is present. After its dispersal orbits may also be modified as a result of mutual gravitational interactions leading to their currently observed configurations in the longer term. A number of potentially significant phenomena have been identified. These include radial migration of solids in the protoplanetary disk, radial migration of protoplanetary cores produced by disk-planet interaction and how it can be halted by protoplanet traps, formation of resonant systems and subsystems, and gravitational interactions among planets or between a planet and an external stellar companion. These interactions may cause excitation of orbital inclinations and eccentricities which in the latter case may attain values close to unity. When the eccentricity approaches unity, tidal interaction with the central star could lead to orbital circularization and a close orbiting Hot Jupiter, providing a competitive process to direct migration through the disk or in-situ formation. Long-term dynamical instability may also account for the relatively small number of observed compact systems of super-Earths and Neptune class planets that have attained and subsequently maintained linked commensurabilities in the long term.
The planetary boundary layer of Mars is a crucial component of the Martian climate and meteorology, as well as a key driver of the surface-atmosphere exchanges on Mars. As such, it is explored by several landers and orbiters; high-resolution atmospheric modeling is used to interpret the measurements by those spacecrafts. The planetary boundary layer of Mars is particularly influenced by the strong radiative control of the Martian surface and, as a result, features a more extreme version of planetary boundary layer phenomena occurring on Earth. In daytime, the Martian planetary boundary layer is highly turbulent, mixing heat and momentum in the atmosphere up to about 10 kilometers from the surface. Daytime convective turbulence is organized as convective cells and vortices, the latter giving rise to numerous dust devils when dust is lifted and transported in the vortex. The nighttime planetary boundary layer is dominated by stable-layer turbulence, which is much less intense than in the daytime, and slope winds in regions characterized by uneven topography. Clouds and fogs are associated with the planetary boundary layer activity on Mars.
Joachim Friedrich Quack
The five visible planets are certainly attested to in Egyptian sources from about 2000
In the Late Period, probably under Mesopotamian influence, the sequence of the planets as well as their religious associations could change; at least one source links Saturn with the Sun god, Mars with Miysis, Mercury with Thot, Venus with Horus, son of Isis, and Jupiter with Amun, arranging the planets with those considered negative in astrology first, separated from the positive ones by the vacillating Mercury. Late monuments depicting the zodiac place the planets in positions which are considered important in astrology, especially the houses or the place of maximum power (hypsoma; i.e., “exaltation”).
Probably under Babylonian influence, in the Greco-Roman Period mathematical models for calculating the positions and phases of the planets arose. These were used for calculating horoscopes, of which a number in demotic Egyptian are attested. There are also astrological treatises (most still unpublished) in the Egyptian language which indicate the relevance of planets for forecasts, especially for the fate of individuals born under a certain constellation, but also for events important for the king and the country in general; they could be relevant also for enterprises begun at a certain date.
There is some reception of supposedly or actually specific Egyptian planet sequences, names and religious associations in Greek sources.
The Spanish chronicles do not mention planets other than Venus, although they compare certain Aztec gods with classical gods such as Jupiter and Mars. Creation myths recorded by the Spanish chroniclers frequently name Venus gods, most notably Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl and Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli. The focus on Venus seen in these texts is also mirrored in colonial period Aztec codices, which feature several Venus gods as rulers of calendar periods associated with the 260-day calendar. The famous Aztec Calendar Stone represents Venus symbols prominently in an image showing the predicted demise of the Sun in an eternal solar eclipse, to be accompanied by earthquakes. Venus is apparently seen as the cause of a total solar eclipse in the Codex Borgia, a pre-conquest codex from Tlaxcala, a community neighboring the Aztecs in central Mexico. Although no pre-conquest Aztec codices survive, the painted screenfold books attributed to neighboring communities in central Mexico provide evidence of the kinds of almanacs that were probably also found in Preconquest Aztec screenfold books. The Codex Borgia has two Venus almanacs associated with heliacal rise events and another focusing on dates that coordinate with events involving Venus and possibly other planets. A unique narrative in the Codex Borgia traces Venus over the course of a year, representing different aspects of the synodical cycle. The transformation of Venus in the narrative is evidenced by subtle changes in the Venus god, Quetzalcoatl, who represents the planet Venus throughout the synodical cycle. Another god, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (“lord of dawn”), appears in the narrative associated with Venus as the morning star and also is represented in a death aspect during superior conjunction. This is in keeping with Aztec legends that tell how the Sun killed Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli with his solar rays. The Borgia narrative also helps identify Xolotl as the planet Mercury and provides hints about other planets that may be linked with different aspects of Tezcatlipoca, an Aztec god who ruled the night sky.
Von Del Chamberlain
We can be certain that all cultures wondered about the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, and that they found ways of incorporating what they observed into comprehension of themselves existing within their perceptible surroundings, both on earth and in the sky. Thanks to the gleanings of anthropologists in the late 1800s and early 1900s, we have a treasure trove revealing that the Native American Skidi Band of the Pawnee Nation possessed a unique creation tradition rich in astronomical symbolism. This includes the belief that the two bright planets encompassing within their orbits the orbit of planet Earth were considered by the Skidi to be the cosmic parents of the very first human child, a girl; the Sun and Moon were considered parents of the first male child.
This story of human origin includes the legendary journey of the male Great Red Warrior from the east to court the Beautiful Bright White female star of the west, followed by the birth of their daughter transported to earth. This is a striking allegory of the apparent migrations of Mars and Venus, continually changing in brightness, undergoing retrograde motions and sometimes seeming to unite in close conjunctions. Watching these interrelations, repeated over and over with intriguing variations, likely led to and continually reinforced this tradition. Likewise, the apparent monthly relationships of Sun and Moon, with occasional eclipses, visually reinforced the account of the initial male human birth. Thus, the Skidi Pawnee tradition of human origins is an interesting, indeed beautiful, example of human interpretation of natural phenomena.
Angela M. Zalucha and Jason Cook
In addition to ground-based observations beginning in the 1970s, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Triton in 1989, and NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in 2015. Prior to the flyby of New Horizons, Pluto and Triton were termed “sister worlds” due to what appeared to be a high degree of similarity in solid-body density, surface ices, diameter, and surface pressures. Despite being small, cold, icy bodies, both Pluto and Triton have been found to have atmospheres that behave as a continuous fluid up to 300 km altitude above the surface and thereby have a defined temperature, surface pressure, and global general circulation (wind). The primary constituent of these atmospheres is molecular nitrogen, with methane and carbon monoxide comprising the largest abundances of trace gases. The surface pressure as measured in the 2010s on both worlds is of the order of 10 microbars (1 Pa = 10 µbar), for these exotic atmospheres exchange mass between sublimation of surface ice and deposition of nitrogen over the course of each body’s year. Ground-based stellar occultation measurements observed a dramatic change in surface pressure, which one study found was as much as a factor of two increase between 1988 and 2003 on Pluto, presumably due to Pluto’s seasonal volatile cycle. Voyager 2 observed plumes and surface “streaks” on Triton, while New Horizons observed dunes (indicating wind speeds of 1–10 m s−1) as well as streaks, evidently indicating the presence of surface and near-surface winds.
While wind velocity aloft has not been directly measured on Pluto or Triton, 3-D general circulation modeling studies of both worlds have shown zonal (east–west) wind speeds of the order of 10 m/s, meridional (north–south) wind speeds of the order of 1 m/s, and extremely weak vertical wind speeds.
In 2015, New Horizons showed that Pluto and Triton were much more different than previously thought. New Horizons uncovered many spectacular views of Pluto’s atmosphere. First, while hydrocarbon haze was observed on Triton, Pluto had multiple, very distinct stratified haze layers bearing a similar appearance to the layers of an onion. Second, Pluto’s surface elevation was found to be largely inhomogeneous (in contrast to Triton) in the form of a large depression (Sputnik Planitia). Third, the characteristics of the surface markings on Pluto were found to be different than the streaks observed on Triton, which has implications for surface wind patterns.
Further major discoveries made by New Horizons included evidence for many hydrocarbon species in trace concentrations, a lower than expected surface pressure, which could previously only be indirectly ascertained from ground-based observations, and a higher mixing ratio of methane at higher altitudes than at lower due to gravitational diffusive separation. Using radio occultation experiments (not conducted by Voyager 2 at Triton), New Horizons confirmed the existence of a stratosphere (temperature increasing with height) extending to 25 km altitude at both the entry and exit locations. The entry location had a shallow troposphere (temperature decreasing with height) extending to 3.5 km altitude above the surface, while the exit location did not.
Nicolas Mangold, Jessica Flahaut, and Véronique Ansan
Planetary surface compositions are fundamental to an understanding of both the interior activity through differentiation processes and volcanic activity and the external evolution through alteration processes and accumulations of volatiles. While the Moon has been studied since early on using ground-based instruments and returned samples, observing the surface composition of the terrestrial planets did not become practical until after the development of orbital and in situ missions with instruments tracking mineralogical and elemental variations. The poorly evolved, atmosphere-free bodies like the Moon and Mercury enable the study of the formation of the most primitive crusts, through processes such as the crystallization of a magma ocean, and their volcanic evolution. Nevertheless, recent studies have shown more diversity than initially expected, including the presence of ice in high latitude regions. Because of its heavy atmosphere, Venus remains the most difficult planetary body to study and the most poorly known in regards to its composition, triggering some interest for future missions. In contrast, Mars exploration has generated a huge amount of data in the last two decades, revealing a planet with a mineralogical diversity close to that of the Earth. While Mars crust is dominated by basaltic material, recent studies concluded for significant contributions of more felsic and alkali-rich igneous material, especially in the ancient highlands. These ancient terrains also display widespread outcrops of hydrous minerals, especially phyllosilicates, which are key in the understanding of past climate conditions and suggest a volatile-rich early evolution with implications for exobiology. Recent terrains exhibit a cryosphere with ice-rich landforms at, or close to the surface, of mid- and high latitudes, generating a strong interest for recent climatic variability and resources for future manned missions. While Mars is certainly the planetary body the most similar to Earth, the observation of specific processes such as those linked to interactions with solar wind on atmosphere-free bodies, or with a thick acidic atmosphere on Venus, improve our understanding of the differences in evolution of terrestrial bodies. Future exploration is still necessary to increase humankind’s knowledge and further build a global picture of the formation and evolution of planetary surfaces.
The great rise and diversification of the use of outer space raises the question of the limitations to space activities. The ultimate restriction posed by space law is the use of outer space “for peaceful purposes.” Regardless of the semantic approach one adopts with respect to the definition of the term “peaceful purposes” in the text of the Outer Space Treaty, it is the underlying substantive legal normativity which constitutes the determining factor. The applicable international legal rules confirm that the ultimate limit is the prohibition of the use of force laid down in Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter, which applies to outer space along with the exceptions stipulated in the UN Charter and general international law. In addition, the Outer Space Treaty establishes a particular legal regime on celestial bodies, declaring them a demilitarized zone, and bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in outer space. Space law, as any other branch of public international law, is of evolutive nature, so future adjustments and developments of its legal normativity in light of the abrupt growth and multiplication of the exploration and uses in the space arena remain open.
During the last three millennia before the Spanish Conquest, the peoples living in the central and southern parts of modern Mexico and the northern part of Central America evolved into complex societies with a number of common characteristics that define the cultural area known as Mesoamerica and are expressed in technology, forms of subsistence, government, architecture, religion, and intellectual achievements, including sophisticated astronomical concepts. For the Aztecs, the Maya, and many other Mesoamerican societies, Venus was one of the most important celestial bodies. Not only were they aware that the brightest “star” appearing in certain periods in the pre-dawn sky was identical to the one that at other times was visible in the evening after sunset; they also acquired quite accurate knowledge about the regularities of the planet’s apparent motion. While Venus was assiduously observed and studied, it also inspired various beliefs, in which its morning and evening manifestations had different attributes. Relevant information is provided by archaeological data, prehispanic manuscripts, early Spanish reports, and ethnographically recorded myths that survive among modern communities as remnants of pre-Conquest tradition.
The best-known is the malevolent aspect of the morning star, whose first appearances after inferior conjunction were believed to inflict harm on nature and humanity in a number of ways. However, the results of recent studies suggest that the prevalent significance of the morning star was of relatively late and foreign origin. The most important aspect of the symbolism of Venus was its conceptual association with rain and maize, in which the evening star had a prominent role. It has also been shown that these beliefs must have been motivated by some observational facts, particularly by the seasonality of evening star extremes, which approximately delimit the rainy season and the agricultural cycle in Mesoamerica. As revealed by different kinds of evidence, including architectural alignments to these phenomena, Venus was one of the celestial agents responsible for the timely arrival of rains, which conditioned a successful agricultural season. The planet also had an important place in the concepts concerning warfare and sacrifice, but this symbolism seems to have been derived from other ideas that characterize Mesoamerican religion. Human sacrifices were believed necessary for securing rain, agricultural fertility, and a proper functioning of the universe in general. Since the captives obtained in battles were the most common sacrificial victims, the military campaigns were religiously sanctioned, and the Venus-rain-maize associations became involved in sacrificial symbolism and warfare ritual. These ideas became a significant component of political ideology, fostered by rulers who exploited them to satisfy their personal ambitions and secular goals. In sum, the whole conceptual complex surrounding the planet Venus in Mesoamerica can be understood in the light of both observational facts and the specific socio-political context.
Asteroids 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta are the two most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt, with mean diameters of 946 km and 525 km, respectively. Ceres was reclassified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union as a result of its new dwarf planet definition which is a body that (a) orbits the sun, (b) has enough mass to assume a nearly round shape, (c) has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a moon. Scientists’ understanding of these two bodies has been revolutionized in the past decade by the success of the Dawn mission that visited both bodies. Vesta is an example of a small body that has been heated substantially and differentiated into a metallic core, silicate mantle, and basaltic crust. Ceres is a volatile-rich rocky body that experienced less heating than Vesta and has differentiated into rock and ice. These two contrasting bodies have been instrumental in learning how inner solar system material formed and evolved.
David A. Rothery
The history of volcanism on Mercury is almost the entire history of the formation of its crust. There are no recognized tracts of intact primary crust analogous to the Moon’s highland crust, probably because the density of Mercury’s iron-poor magma ocean was insufficient to enable crystalized silicate phases to float. Mercury’s surface consists of multiple generations of lavas. These were emplaced, rather like terrestrial “large igneous provinces” or LIPs, in their greatest volumes prior to about 3.5 Ga. Subsequently, erupted volumes decreased, and sites of effusive eruption became largely confined to crater floors. Plains lava surfaces younger than about 3.7 Ga have become scarred by sufficiently few impact craters that they are mapped as “smooth plains.” The older equivalents, which experienced the inner solar system’s “late heavy bombardment,” are mapped as intercrater plains. There is no consensus over whether plains with superimposed-crater characteristics that are intermediate between the smooth plains and intercrater plains end members can be consistently mapped as “intermediate plains.” However, any subdivision of the volcanic plains for mapping purposes arbitrarily splits apart a continuum.
The volcanic nature of Mercury’s smooth plains was ambiguous on the basis of the imagery returned by the first mission to Mercury, Mariner 10, which made three fly-bys in 1974–1975. Better and more complete imaging by MESSENGER (in orbit 2011–2015) removed any doubt by documenting innumerable ghost craters and wrinkle ridges. No source vents for the plains are apparent, but this is normal in LIPs where effusion rate and style characteristically flood the vent beneath its own products. However, there are good examples of broad, flat-bottomed valleys containing streamlined islands suggesting passage of fast-flowing low viscosity lava.
Although the causes of the mantle partial melting events supplying surface eruptions on Mercury are unclear, secular cooling of a small, one-plate planet such as Mercury would be expected to lead to the sort of temporal decrease in volcanic activity that is observed. Factors include loss of primordial heat and declining rate of radiogenic heat production (both of which would make mantle partial melting progressively harder), and thermal contraction of the planet (closing off ascent pathways).
Lava compositions, so far as can be judged from the limited X-ray spectroscopic and other geochemical measurements, appear to be akin to terrestrial komatiites but with very low iron content. Variations within this general theme may reflect heterogeneities in the mantle, or different degrees of partial melting.
The cessation of flood volcanism on Mercury is hard to date, because the sizes of the youngest flows, most of which are inside <200-km craters, are too small for reliable statistics to be derived from the density of superposed craters. However, it probably continued until approximately 1 Ga ago.
That was not the end of volcanism. MESSENGER images have enabled the identification of over a hundred “pits,” which are noncircular holes up to tens of km in size and up to about 4 km deep. Many pits are surrounded by spectrally red deposits, with faint outer edges tens of km from the pit, interpreted as ejecta from explosive eruptions within the pit. Many pits have complex floors, suggesting vent migration over time. Pits usually occur within impact craters, and it has been suggested that crustal fractures below these craters facilitated the ascent of magma despite the compressive regime imposed by the secular thermal contraction. These explosive eruptions must have been driven by the violent expansion of a gas. This could be either a magmatic volatile expanding near the top of a magma conduit, or result from heating of a near-surface volatile by rising magma. MESSENGER showed that Mercury’s crust is surprisingly rich in volatiles (S, Cl, Na, K, C), of which the one likely to be of most importance in driving the explosive eruptions is S.
We do not know when explosive volcanism began on Mercury. Cross-cutting relationships suggest that some explosion pits are considerably less than 1 Ga old, though most could easily be more than 3 Ga. They characteristically occur on top of smooth plains (or less extensive smooth fill of impact craters), and while some pits have no discernible “red spot” around them (perhaps because over time, it has faded into the background), there is no known example of part of a red spot peeping out from beneath the edge of a smooth plains unit. There seems to have been a change in eruptive style over time, with (small volume) explosions supplanting (large volume) effusive events.