The equilibrium size-frequency distribution of small craters reveals the effects of distal ejecta on lunar landscape morphology

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Abstract

Small craters of the lunar maria are observed to be in a state of equilibrium, in which the rate of production of new craters is, on average, equal to the rate of destruction of old craters. Crater counts of multiple lunar terrains over decades consistently show that the equilibrium cumulative size-frequency distribution (SFD) per unit area of small craters of radius >r is proportional r −2 , and that the total crater density is a few percent of so-called geometric saturation, which is the maximum theoretical packing density of circular features. While it has long been known that the primary crater destruction mechanism for these small craters is steady diffusive degradation, there are few quantitative constraints on the processes that determine the degradation rate of meter to kilometer scale lunar surface features. Here we combine analytical modeling with a Monte Carlo landscape evolution code known as the Cratered Terrain Evolution Model to place constraints on which processes control the observed equilibrium size-frequency distribution for small craters. We find that the impacts by small distal ejecta fragments, distributed in spatially heterogeneous rays, is the largest contributor to the diffusive degradation which controls the equilibrium SFD of small craters. Other degradation or crater removal mechanisms, such cookie cutting, ejecta burial, seismic shaking, and micrometeoroid bombardment, likely contribute very little to the diffusive topographic degradation of the lunar maria at the meter scale and larger.

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Minton, D. A., Fassett, C. I., Hirabayashi, M., Howl, B. A., & Richardson, J. E. (2019). The equilibrium size-frequency distribution of small craters reveals the effects of distal ejecta on lunar landscape morphology. Icarus, 326, 63–87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2019.02.021

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