A Peek at a Pitch-Black Pit

by Jason Major on March 19, 2012

A dark, rimless pit crater within the crater Tolstoj on Mercury

MESSENGER captured this high-resolution image of an elongated pit crater within the floor of the 355-km (220-mile) -wide crater Tolstoj on Mercury on Jan. 11, 2012. The low angle of sun illumination puts the interior of the pit crater into deep shadow, making it appear bottomless.

Pit craters are not caused by impacts, but rather by the collapse of the roof of an underground magma chamber. They are characterized by the lack of a rim or surrounding ejecta blankets, and are often not circular in shape.

Since the floor of Tolstoj crater is thought to have once been flooded by lava, a pit crater is not out of place here.

The presence of such craters on Mercury indicates past volcanic activity on Mercury contributing to the planet’s evolution.

Read more on the MESSENGER mission website here.

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

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

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