Rocky Rings

1.72 million square kilometer Caloris Basin on Mercury. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. 

June 30, 2020

Many celestial bodies display multi-ringed formations.

Mare Orientale can be found near the western rim of the Moon, making it difficult to see from Earth. It has a nearly complete concentric ring structure with a surrounding basin of mare material. The mare is bounded inwardly by steep scarp and topped by sharp massifs. Maunder crater lies nearby in the northern region, while to the southeast is Kopff. Montes Rook lines its eastern edge.

Over time, as more evidence for electrical scarring on planets and moons is gathered, it is easier to categorize peculiar features found “out there,” as well as here on our planet. One of those categories could be called “multi-ringed basins”, because many different locations on other worlds besides our own share this common feature.

All of the basins exhibit flat inner plains with vertical cliffs encircling the interior, such as Renoir Basin on Mercury. Some of those cliffs are several kilometers high. A secondary plain, that will sometimes have a deep outer perimeter, like a v-shaped canyon, is another common feature. Surrounding that secondary plain will be another ring of cliffs, often higher than the inner ring, with a more gradual drop-off extending outward from the central structure. In some of the larger basins that pattern is repeated several more times, with shorter cliffs and broader plains, until they finally merge into the bedrock.

They are found (in no particular order) on Ganymede, Tethys, The Moon, Mercury, Callisto, Miranda, Earth, Venus, Mars, and most likely other locations soon to be discovered. When future space probes are sent to explore extra-solar moons and planets, it is probable that more of these multi-ringed basins will be found.

What created the basins? Was it the impact theory as favored by consensus opinion? Did gigantic mountains of rock strike all the bodies listed above? Did a 10-kilometer-wide meteor impact Earth and excavate the multi-ringed Chicxulub crater that supposedly killed-off the dinosaurs?

Laboratory experiments with electric currents in plasma show that they can appear in three modes: dark, glow and arc, depending on the voltage and charge density. The arc mode, which has a very high charge density, is used for precision machining in metal.

The degree of current filamentation depends on the density of the medium through which the current passes. With similar current flows, one passing through a vacuum (or a thin atmosphere) produces a columnar channel that spins around its axis. In the glow mode, this channel looks like a tornado of fire. The same current, if it travels through a thick atmosphere, branches into filaments. These filaments form concentric circles around the primary axis.

When electricity passes over a solid body it erodes material from the surface where the arc touches down. The pits or craters left by electric arcs are usually circular because the electric forces constrain the arc to strike at a right angle to the surface. An electric arc is composed of two (or more) filaments rotating around a common center, so the surface is excavated by a plasma “drill bit,” leaving steep sides and a “pinched up” rim of debris.

If the filaments are sufficiently separated, the bottom of the crater, as the material is removed, will be electrically heated, possibly burned, and then melted flat. This explains why so many of the inner regions of multi-ringed formations are so often dark. The abundance of small craters on the rims of larger rings testifies to the probability of electric arc discharges. As the arc travels, it punches out a chain of craters. If the craters overlap, the result is a steep-sided trench with scalloped edges. The arc can cut a trench and then jump some distance away before cutting another one.

It is possible that the origin of the multi-ringed basins is not due to asteroid or comets impacts billions of years ago, but to the action of interplanetary electric arcs, burning hot and explosively violent.

Stephen Smith

The Thunderbolts Picture of the Day is generously supported by the Mainwaring Archive Foundation.

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