• Effects of target properties on the formation of lunar impact craters in the simple-to-complex transition

      Chandnani, Mitali; Herrick, Robert; Kramer, Georgiana; Larsen, Jessica; Dehn, Jonathan (2019-12)
      The transition from simple to complex crater morphology in impact craters with increase in crater size has been modelled and observed in planetary bodies across the Solar System. The transition diameter depends upon the strength and gravity of the planetary body. On the Moon, this transition takes place over a diameter range of several kilometers. This range spans a diversity of crater morphologies including simple, transitional and complex craters. The diameter range of 15 20 km falls within the lunar simple-to-complex transition. All other impactor properties held constant, the 15-20 km range corresponds to a factor of three in the magnitude of impact kinetic energy. I conducted detailed geologic investigation of 244 well-preserved craters in this diameter range to elucidate the root causes of morphological variations. I used panchromatic data for observing crater and surface morphology, Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) for evaluating crater morphometry and topographic variation of pre-impact terrain, near-infrared (NIR) bands for determining the composition of crater cavity and surrounding terrain, thermal infrared bands for examining rock abundance, and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data for detecting impact melt deposits. The results of my investigation indicate that the morphological differences are primarily governed by target properties. Simple craters are confined to the highlands, and the mare are more abundant in complex craters. The mare are composed of solidified basaltic lava flows interlayered with regolith. The layering creates vertical strength heterogeneities that drive the destabilization of the transient cavity and its collapse, causing the transition to complex craters at smaller diameters in the mare. The non-layered highlands are more vertically homogeneous in strength and therefore favor simple crater formation. Eight atypically deep simple craters were identified in the highlands near the mare highlands boundaries, the most porous terrains on the lunar surface. After detailed examination of these craters in comparison to their normal-depth counterparts, I conclude that part of the energy from impact on porous target was spent in target compaction. The higher the porosity of the target, the deeper the crater and greater its volume, due to increased compaction. That only some of the craters in the high porosity terrains are deep suggests that those craters are on locally extreme-high porosity patches. However, an unusual impactor property, such as a high velocity impact, a high density impactor, or a near-vertical impact may also be a contributor. The simple craters in the highlands were observed to be located on flat or gradually sloping surfaces or degraded rims and terraces of pre-existing craters. Most craters with localized slumps superpose sharp topographic breaks such as well-developed rims and terraces of pre-existing craters. However, the topographic settings of 35% of the craters with localized slumps appeared to be similar to that of the simple craters. More detailed topographic study of the pre-impact terrains of these two morphologies revealed that the pre-impact terrains of 35% of the craters with localized slumps are gradually sloping or have subtle topographic breaks. Both sharp and subtle breaks are characterized with similar sloping directions as the adjacent craters' walls, which led to over steepening of the transient cavity walls around this part of the rim and their collapse, thereby causing the accumulation of localized slumped material. Several simple craters were also identified to have formed on pre-impact topographic breaks. However, the simple craters' walls that superpose these breaks were observed to be sloping in directions opposite to that of the breaks. So the ejecta around these walls was deposited along the break slopes, and thus syn-impact mass wasting occurred external (and not internal) to the crater cavity.