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Giant Asteroid Vesta – Unexpected Details

Credit: NASA/JPL

THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS – New images and data highlight the diversity of Vesta’s surface and reveal unusual geologic features, some of which were never previously seen on asteroids.

These results were detailed here today at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, now underway here at The Woodlands, Texas.

For one, bright areas appear everywhere on Vesta but are most predominant in and around craters. The areas vary from several hundred feet to around 10 miles (16 kilometers) across.

Rocks crashing into the surface of Vesta seem to have exposed and spread this bright material. This impact process may have mixed the bright material with darker surface material.

Vesta’s dark materials suggest the giant asteroid may preserve ancient materials from the asteroid belt and beyond, possibly from the birth of the solar system.

“Our analysis finds this bright material originates from Vesta and has undergone little change since the formation of Vesta over 4 billion years ago,” said Jian-Yang Li, a Dawn participating scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. “We’re eager to learn more about what minerals make up this material and how the present Vesta surface came to be.”

Dawn launched in September 2007. It will reach its second destination, Ceres, in February 2015.

“Dawn’s ambitious exploration of Vesta has been going beautifully,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “As we continue to gather a bounty of data, it is thrilling to reveal fascinating alien landscapes.”

By Leonard David

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