Fractured ground

Spend a day on Mercury

One of the longest fold-and-thrust belts on Mercury, which includes (but isn't limited to) the cliff known as Victoria Rupes.
Victoria Rupes, a long scarp that formed when Mercury shrank as its core cooled.
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/CIW/MESSENGER Team/Benjamin Man

Cutting through a surface pitted with impact craters is the magnificent Victoria Rupes on Mercury, the closest planet to our sun. Rupes are escarpments, or slopes, that can form when a planet’s surface is compressed. On Earth, compression is created when slabs of the planet’s outer shell slide around, pulling apart in some areas and pushing together in others. When one slab of rock is pushed over another, a thrust fault is formed. On Mercury, compression is caused by the planet shrinking as it cools over time, cracking and contracting its brittle surface.

Ridges and cracks

Ridges and cracks are found on planets and moons across the solar system, where forces pull the ground apart or press it together. Their presence tells us that landscapes are active, responding to changes in their environment such as heating and cooling or pushing and pulling. Looking at these pictures from around the solar system, do you see a crack or ridge in the landscape?

An oblique view of a fracture in the orange bedrock of Mars running left to right along the middle horizon line.
A fracture {Cerebus Fossae} in the ‘dark spot’ on Mars known as the Cerberus region
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
The San Andreas fault runs left to right along the floor of the Carrizo Plain, California. Ridges and cracks alternate at varying angles to the fault plane, creating a zig zagging pattern in the rock
Visible ridges and cracks on the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain, California
Credit: Doc Searls, CC-BY 2.0

Explore more

A Day on Mercury. Join David Mitchell on Mercury for a day!

The British Antarctic Survey capture a huge crack in the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica

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