NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Spies New Surface Features on Giant Asteroid Vesta

Posted on March 23, 2012

Vesta Crater Canuleia

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has revealed some unexpected details on the surface of Vesta, a huge asteroid Dawn is tracking, which is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Some of the unusual features on Vesta's surface have never been seen on an asteroid before.

There are bright areas all over Vesta, but they are most predominate in and around Vesta's craters (as can be seen in the above image of Canuleia, a crater on Vesta). These areas vary from several hundred feet to around 10 miles (16 kilometers) across. NASA researchers say impacts from rocks crashing into Vesta may have spread this bright material around. There are also dark materials on Vesta, which appear as dark gray, brown and red deposits. The dark materials appear as small deposits near craters and they also appear as large regional deposits.

Dawn scientists say 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.

Brett Denevi, a Dawn participating scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, says, "Some of these past collisions were so intense they melted the surface. Dawn's ability to image the melt marks a unique find. Melting events like these were suspected, but never before seen on an asteroid."

This image shows a young crater on Vesta that is 9 miles (15 kilometers) in diameter.

Vesta Young Crater

You can see more images of Vesta, taken by Dawn, here on the official website.