Watch That First Step!

NAC Oblique of Rupes Cauchy
LROC oblique view of the giant scarp (cliff) Rupes Cauchy that cuts across 200 km of Mare Tranquillitatis. The scarp is 300 meters tall and Cauchy B crater is 6 km in diameter [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

There are many tectonic features on the Moon, although most are wrinkle ridges (thrust faults). Normal faults, where one block drops down against another, are relatively rare on the Moon (but are common on the Earth). However, there are a couple of spectacular examples of giant normal fault scarps cutting across the mare; Rupes Cauchy is one (located at 9.31°N, 37.08°E), Rupes Recta is another.

Rupes Cauchy Detail
Figure 1. Vertical view of a small section of Rupes Cauchy (broad brighter band from upper left to lower right), note the boulders and generally worn down craters. The scarp is 300 meters tall. NAC M180930426L [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Boulders scattered along the slope (Figure 1) are eroding ancient mare lava rocks that form the local bedrock. Note that there are not many boulders piled up at the base of the slope. This paucity suggests that once exposed, the boulders are destroyed in place by micrometeorite bombardment before they have a chance to roll downhill.

Broad view of Rupes Cauchy
Figure 2. NAC mosaic featuring the varying morphology of Rupes Cauchy along its length. NAC M180930429LR [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

The broad mare plains to the southwest are 300 m lower relative to the plains to the northeast (Figure 3 and 4). Along its length, the height of the scarp varies, eventually disappearing at the ends, and in a few places the scarp breaks into two strands forming a pair of steps (Figure 2). The slope of the scarp is around 15°, which is considerably shallower than what would be expected for the dip of a typical normal fault (~60°). Probably the scarp was originally steeper, but over time micrometeoroid bombardment of the surface moved material off the scarp and reduced its slope. The fact that there are many degraded small craters at the top and bottom of the scarp is consistent with an old age.

A second tectonic feature parallels the Rupes, about 40-50 km to the northeast. This feature, Rima Cauchy, is an en echelon graben (i.e., a graben system that is formed by individual segments that are offset from one another). Both Rupes Cauchy and Rima Cauchy are the result of tensional / extensional stresses. In the case of Rupes Cauchy, a single giant fault formed; in the case of Rima Cauchy, two faults (facing each other) formed and dropped a narrow block between them.

WAC Mosaic Rupes Cauchy
Figure 3. WAC mosaic of the Rupes Cauchy region in Mare Tranquillitatis. M117257057ME, M117243496ME, M117236702ME, and M117229932ME [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

A WAC digital elevation model (WAC DEM) of the area shows the dramatic topography (Figure 4). The abrupt change in elevation along the scarp is clearly seen, as well as the craters Cauchy, Cauchy D to the northeast, and Zähringer to the southeast. Compare the WAC image and the DEM (Figures 3 and 4).

WAC Digital Elevation Model Rupes Cauchy
Figure 4. DEM of the Rupes Cauchy produced from LRO WAC stereo images. Shades of grey represent elevation: dark regions are low and bright regions are high [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Inspect the LROC NAC oblique view of Rupes Cauchy and the vertical view NAC.

Related Posts:
Rupes Recta
Linear Graben (Apollo Metric)

Posted by Jeffrey Plescia on July 25, 2012 10:14.