Spacecraft Dawn and New Results from the Asteroid Vesta

Vesta
Elevation (left) and gravity contour (right) of the Asteroid Vesta
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

At the annual European Geosciences Union General Assembly from 22 – 27 April 2012 in Vienna, Austria, a series of papers on Dawn’s exploration of Vesta were presented, among 4,436 oral and 9,092 poster presentations in 530 unique scientific sessions together with 157 Poster Summaries & Discussions sessions as well as 165 side events.

A list of papers on Vesta can be found here.

The image above, left, shows the topography of Vesta’s southern hemisphere with the Rheasilvia Basin and the Veneneia Basin (a quadrangle map of Vesta can be found in this previous post).

The gravitational map on the right shows the gravitational field below the basins, with the gravity component from hills and valleys removed. Red shows the strongest gravitational pull, and blue the weakest. Rheasilvia has some denser material, shown in yellow, below the central peak, while the dark blue on the right rim of the basin may indicate lighter rock, or highly fractured material.

The image below shows a portion of Vesta and some of the many pockets of bright material on the asteroid. Vesta is one of the brightest objects in the solar system, and scientists conjecture that this represents original material from the formation of Vesta. The yellow boxes hightligh some of these bright pockets.

Bright Spots
Bright Albedo on the Asteroid Vesta
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / UMD

A recent press release from NASA about the European Geosciences Union meeting details additional discoveries about Vesta, including temperature ranges in and out of shadows, surface mineral patterns, ancient rocks and recent dust and the 3-D gravitational fields from interior features of the protoplanet.

Launched in 2007, Dawn began its exploration of the approximately 530-kilometer-wide asteroid in mid-2011. The spacecraft’s next assignment will be to study the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. These two icons of the asteroid belt have been witness to much of our solar system’s history.