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Journal Article

Synthesis of the special issue: The formation and evolution of Ceres’ Occator crater


Nathues,  Andreas
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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Scully, J. E., Bowling, T., Bu, C., Buczkowski, D. L., Longobardo, A., Nathues, A., et al. (2019). Synthesis of the special issue: The formation and evolution of Ceres’ Occator crater. Icarus, 320, 213-225. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2018.08.029.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-C5A6-3
The distinctive bright regions within Occator crater are one of the most remarkable discoveries of the Dawn mission's exploration of Ceres. The central region is named Cerealia Facula and the additional regions in the eastern crater floor are named Vinalia Faculae. Here we summarize and synthesize the results of this special issue, which aimed to identify the driving forces behind the formation of Occator and the faculae, and thus lead us to a new understanding of the processes and conditions that occurred in Ceres’ past, and potentially in its present. The investigations presented here used Dawn data, theoretical modeling and laboratory experiments to deduce the sequence of events that led to the formation of Occator, Cerealia Facula and Vinalia Faculae, which are broken into stages 1–3. Stage 1: Occator's ejecta blanket, terraces and hummocky crater floor material formed during and shortly after crater formation. These features are located in many Cerean complex craters. However, Occator also contains the lobate materials and faculae, which are unique to Occator. We interpret the lobate materials as a slurry of water, soluble salts and boulders of unmelted silicates/salts, which flowed around the crater interior before solidifying. At least portions of the lobate materials were solidified prior to the formation of the central pit, which is suggested to form via the ‘melted uplift model’ and provides insights into central pit formation across the Solar System. We propose the outer edge of Cerealia Facula formed shortly after the Occator-forming impact, via impact-induced hydrothermal brine deposition or via salt-rich water fountaining (perhaps sourced in a pre-existing reservoir). Stage 2: the majority of Cerealia Facula is located within the central pit and is interpreted to have formed later, at least ∼18 Myr after the Occator-forming impact, via multiple depositional events. The Cerealia-Facula-forming brines may have flowed out of fractures in the walls of the central pit and/or been driven to the surface by freezing of a subsurface reservoir and/or deposited via salt-rich water fountains. Further investigations are required to identify whether the formation of the majority of Cerealia Facula is driven by processes triggered by an impact, i.e. an exogenic event, or by a combination of impact-driven and endogenic processes. Cryomagmatic intrusions are suggested to uplift the crater floor, resulting in concentric floor fractures and an asymmetric dome. Injection of a similar material is proposed to inflate part of the lobate materials, giving them a hummocky texture. The resulting stresses formed fractures in the hummocky lobate material, which allowed the Vinalia-Faculae-forming brines to travel to the surface, where they ballistically erupted. The central dome within the central pit was one of the last features to form, by laccolithic intrusion, or by volume expansion from freezing of volatiles, or by extrusion of brines. Stage 3: mixing with Ceres’ average materials and/or space weathering darken the faculae over time. Cerealia Facula and Vinalia Faculae are the brightest and freshest of the bright regions identified on Ceres’ surface. Bright regions darken over time until their eventual erasure. Thus, it is likely that faculae formation has occurred throughout Ceres’ history, but that Occator's faculae are visible today because they are geologically young. Through synthesis of the studies presented in this special issue, we find that entirely exogenic driving forces, triggered by the impact, or a combination of endogenic and impact-derived forces could explain the formation of Occator and its faculae. Whether activity is impact-triggered and/or endogenic in nature is a key question for all investigations of Ceres, and future studies may favor one possibility over the other. The investigations presented in our special issue indicate Ceres is an active world where brines have been mobile in the geologically recent past. As such, Ceres is an intriguing world that we have only begun to explore.