Secrets of Giant Asteroid Vesta

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reveal new details about the giant asteroid Vesta, including its varied surface composition, sharp temperature changes and clues to its internal structure. Images from Dawn’s framing camera and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, taken 420 miles (680 kilometers) and 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface of the asteroid, show a variety of surface mineral and rock patterns.

Dawn Sees Bright Spots on Giant Asteroid Vesta

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has revealed unexpected details on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. The new photos of Vesta from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft highlight odd, shiny spots that are nearly twice as bright as other parts of the asteroid, suggesting it is original material left over from the space rock’s birth 4 billion years ago, NASA officials said on March 21. With a width of about 330 miles (530 km), asteroid Vesta is one of the largest and brightest objects in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Vesta Likely Cold and Dark Enough for Ice

According to the first published models of Vesta’s average global temperatures and illumination by the sun though generally thought to be quite dry, roughly half of the giant asteroid Vesta is expected to be so cold and to receive so little sunlight that water ice could have survived there for billions of years. According to Timothy Stubbs of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County near the north and south poles, the conditions appear to be favorable for water ice to exist beneath the surface. Vesta probably does not have any significant permanently shadowed craters where water ice could stay frozen on the surface all the time, not even in the roughly 300-mile-diameter (480-kilometer-diameter) crater near the south pole.

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