NASA has released new images and footage of the giant, iron-cored asteroid, Vesta, taken by the agency’s unmanned spacecraft, Dawn. The probe was launched in December 2007 but just only the arrived at one of the asteroid belt’s second most massive heavenly bodies in July this year.
“Vesta is unique among asteroids visited by spacecraft to date in having such wide variation, supporting the notion that it is transitional between the terrestrial planets - like Earth, Mercury, Mars and Venus - and its asteroid siblings,” NASA said.
“The colors reveal differences in the rock composition associated with material ejected by impacts and geologic processes, such as slumping, that have modified the asteroid’s surface. Images from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer reveal that the surface materials contain the iron-bearing mineral pyroxene and are a mixture of rapidly cooled surface rocks and a deeper layer that cooled more slowly. The relative amounts of the different materials mimic the topographic variations derived from stereo camera images, indicating a layered structure that has been excavated by impacts. The rugged surface of Vesta is prone to slumping of debris on steep slopes,” NASA said.
Dawn is scheduled to stay a year with Vesta, named after the ancient Roman virgin goddess of hearth, home, and family. It leaves in July next year for a three year voyage to Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt named after the non-virginal Roman goddess of motherly love and harvests.