Rock breakdown due to diurnal thermal cycling has been hypothesized to drive boulder degradation and regolith production on airless bodies. Numerous studies have invoked its importance in driving landscape evolution, yet morphological features produced by thermal fracture processes have never been definitively observed on an airless body, or any surface where other weathering mechanisms may be ruled out. The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission provides an opportunity to search for evidence of thermal breakdown and assess its significance on asteroid surfaces. Here we show boulder morphologies observed on Bennu that are consistent with terrestrial observations and models of fatigue-driven exfoliation and demonstrate how crack propagation via thermal stress can lead to their development. The rate and expression of this process will vary with asteroid composition and location, influencing how different bodies evolve and their apparent relative surface ages from space weathering and cratering records.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)