New NASA pics uncover asteroid Vesta’s violent youth

A NASA spacecraft called Dawn has delivered fresh images of an enormous asteroid called Vesta, revealing new detail about the giant object’s turbulent past.

A video made up of images collected as Dawn flew 2,700km above Vesta, the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt, reveals circular craters, grooves and other battle scars from collisions with other space objects.

In this image of the south pole region of the asteroid Vesta, a mountain is rising approximately 15 km above the floor of a crater. This mountain, which measures about 200 km in diameter at its base, is one of the highest elevations on all known bodies with solid surfaces in the solar system. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Numerous impact craters illustrate the asteroid Vesta’s violent youth. By counting craters on distinct geological surfaces scientists can deduce relative ages of the asteroid’s surface. This 3D view provides scientists the opportunity to learn more about the morphology of craters on asteroids and physical properties of the material at Vesta’s surface. Use red-cyan (red-blue, or red-green) glasses for a 3D view of the image. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
When NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived at Vesta, one of the first tasks was to determine the precise orientation of the asteroid’s rotation axis and its equator. To do that, scientists defined a prime meridian from which 360 degrees can be counted to the east or west. The image shows Claudia (arrow), a tiny crater of about 500 m in diameter, through which by definition Vesta’s prime meridian runs from the asteroid’s north pole to its south pole. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Professor Trevor Ireland, an asteroid expert from the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences said NASA focused on Vesta because it may provide some clues about how Earth may have formed.

“It’s interesting to see the range of crater sizes that are there,” he said.

“It’s showing us quite vividly that what happens is all of the bodies in the solar system experience lots and lots of impacts. It’s only a matter of time before you get an impact which is too big and it is smashed apart rather than taking a crater.”

Professor Ireland, who recently helped analyse dust collected on a different asteroid by Japan’s space agency, said he was particularly interested in the horizontal stripes around Vesta’s equator.

“One of the intriguing things about Vesta we have known from Hubble observations is it got smacked very hard early on and it has this very big crater down around the south pole,” he said.

“I am curious as to whether these horizontal ridges are pressure ridges induced from when it got hit hard by something quite large.”