Craters, craters, everywhere

For many reasons, mostly political but partly ethical, I do not use Google, Facebook, Twitter. They practice corrupt business policies, while targeting conservative websites for censoring, facts repeatedly confirmed by news stories and by my sense that Facebook has taken action to prevent my readers from recommending Behind the Black to their friends.
Thus, I must have your direct support to keep this webpage alive. Not only does the money pay the bills, it gives me the freedom to speak honestly about science and culture, instead of being forced to write it as others demand.


Please consider donating by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


You can also support me by buying one of my books, as noted in the boxes interspersed throughout the webpage. And if you buy the books through the ebookit links, I get a larger cut and I get it sooner.

Below the fold are two images released today, one from Dawn at Vesta and the other from Messenger at Mercury. What makes them interesting to me is that, though the surfaces of both Vesta and Mercury are crater-packed, there are definitely distinct differences between them that one can spot if you look closely, all highlighting the fundamentally different environments of both worlds.

First, the Vesta photograph. The image looks out past the asteroid’s horizon, showing clearly that this dwarf planet is not spherical, with the south pole depression that puzzles scientists just on the planet’s limb. The parallel long deep grooves that are associated with this depression can be seen on the right. Notice also that the inside walls of all the craters slope downward in a very shallow manner. This gives the impression that the impacts that formed these craters smashed into an almost beachlike sandy surface. Note too the that the center of some craters have what appear to be flat small “ponds,” a phenomenon seen by the spacecraft NEAR when it orbited the asteroid Eros. These ponds are not liquid, but are actually made up of fine-grained particles that settle in the hollows of the asteroid.


For Vesta, these effects probably come from the asteroid’s relatively low gravity, which acts to keep the overall density of its material low.

Then there is the Messenger image looking east across a cratered Mercury plain. Here the craters generally appear to be more shallow, at least relative to the surrounding terrain. Also, the terrain seems more rounded and worn, its rough edges smoothed by eons of wear from the solar wind and the harsh radiation of the nearby sun. In fact, the largest crater in the image (filling the right-bottom quarter of the picture) has almost vanished with wear over time. You can also see one of Mercury’s unique scarps cutting through the crater at the top of the image. These scarps were created as Mercury slowly solidified and shrank.

Mercury craters

While both worlds appear very similar at first glance, this quick close look illustrates once again a very consistent finding by planetary scientists since the beginning of the space age: every object orbiting the sun is uniquely different, sometimes wildly so. Because of this scientists have learned never to be surprised by what they see once they get a chance to take a close look.

For this reason, expect some big surprises when New Horizons finally flies past Pluto in July 2015.


One comment

  • A. A gap is located at an average orbital distance, and asteroid orbits often have large eccentricities.
    B. They are held in place by resonances with other asteroids.
    C.Jupiter’s gravitational tugs keep them there.
    D.Actually, we never see asteroids in the gaps.
    E.They are kept in place by shepherding asteroids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *