The surfaces of airless bodies such as Mercury are continually modified by space weathering, which is driven by micrometeoroid impacts and solar wind irradiation. Space weathering alters the chemical composition, microstructure, and spectral properties of surface regolith. In lunar and ordinarychondritic style space weathering, these processes affect the reflectance properties by darkening (lowering of reflectance), reddening (increasing reflectance with increasing wavelength), and attenuation of characteristic absorption features. These optical changes are driven by the production of nanophase Febearing particles (npFe). While our understanding of these alteration processes has largely been based on data from the Moon and near-Earth S-type asteroids, the space weathering environment at Mercury is much more extreme. The surface of Mercury experiences a more intense solar wind flux and higher velocity micrometeoroid impacts than its planetary counterparts at 1 AU. Additionally, the composition of Mercurys surface varies significantly from that of the Moon. Most notably, a very low albedo unit has been identified on Mercurys surface, known as the low reflectance material (LRM). This unit is enriched with up to 4 wt.% carbon, likely in the form of graphite, over the local mean. In addition, the surface concentration of Fe across Mercurys surface is low (〈2 wt.%) compared to the Moon. Our understanding of how these low-Fe and carbon phases are altered as a result of space weathering processes is limited. Since Fe plays a critical role in the development of space weathering features on other airless surfaces (e.g., npFe), its limited availability on Mercury may strongly affect the space weathering features in surface materials. In order to understand how space weathering affects the chemical, microstructural, and optical properties of the surface of Mercury, we can simulate these processes in the laboratory . Here we used pulsed laser irradiation to simulate the short duration, high temperature events associated with micrometeoroid impacts. We used forsteritic olivine, likely present on the Mercurian surface, with varying FeO contents, each mixed with graphite, in our experiments. We then performed reflectance spectroscopy and electron microscopy to investigate the spectral, chemical, and microstructural changes in these samples.
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC); Mar 16, 2020 - Mar 20, 2020; The Woodlands, TX; United States