I’ve been waiting for nearly two months to be able to share these videos from the Dawn mission’s “flyover” views of Vesta. Scientists showed some of these incredible views at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March, but couldn’t make them public until they published their work in the journal Science.
“Vesta is unlike any other object we’ve visited in the solar system,” said Dawn mission team member Vishnu Reddy at a briefing today. “We see a wide range of variation on the surface, with some areas bright as snow, and other areas as dark as coal.”
The video above is a stunningly beautiful flyover of most of Vesta. Another video, below, takes viewers on a virtual tour of Vesta’s south polar basin, the ‘snowman’ set of craters and a crater called Oppia.
Scientists said today that Vesta more closely resembles a small planet or Earth’s Moon than another asteroid, and they now have a better understanding of both Vesta’s surface and interior, and can conclusively link Vesta with meteorites that have fallen on Earth.
Vesta a wide range of terrain with craters, ridges, steep slopes — much steeper than on any other planetary body in our solar system — and more.
“Dawn’s visit to Vesta thas confirmed our broad theories of this giant asteroid’s history, while helping to fill in details it would have been impossible to know from afar,” said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator for Dawn. “Dawn’s residence at Vesta of nearly a year has made the asteroid’s planet-like qualities obvious and shown us our connection to that bright orb in our night sky.”
“As one of the largest asteroids, Vesta is a type of solar system body that we have not explored before,” said David O’Brien from the Planetary Science Institute. “It is a transitional body between asteroids and full-sized planets. It is similar to many of the small planetesimals that were the building blocks of the planets, and at the same time has many features of a small planet itself, having melted and formed a core and crust, and having a diverse range of surface features and compositions.”
We’ll provide more images and detail in an upcoming article on Dawn’s visit to Vesta.
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.