A brand new 3-D video map from the Dawn mission provides a unique view of the varied surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. The animation drapes high-resolution false color images over a 3-D model of the Vesta terrain constructed from Dawn’s observations. This visualization enables a detailed view of the variation in the material properties of Vesta in the context of its topography.
The colors were chosen to highlight differences in surface composition that are too subtle for the human eye to see. Scientists are still analyzing what some of the colors mean for the composition of the surface. But it is clear that the orange material thrown out from some impact craters is different from the surrounding surface material. Green shows the relative abundance of iron. Parts of the huge impact basin known as Rheasilvia in Vesta’s southern hemisphere, for instance, have areas with less iron than nearby areas.
Thanks to its extended mission time at Vesta, Dawn has imaged the majority of the surface of the asteroid with the framing camera to provide this 3-D map. While some areas in the north were in shadow at the time the images were obtained by the camera, Dawn expects to improve its coverage of Vesta’s northern hemisphere with additional observations. Dawn’s viewing geometry also prevented mapping of a portion of the mountain of the south pole.
The spacecraft is currently spiraling up from its lowest-altitude orbit into its final science orbit, where its average altitude will be about 420 miles (680 kilometers). Dawn is scheduled to leave Vesta around Aug. 26 and then head to Ceres. This will be the first mission to enter orbit around one object, then leave and head to another.