Buttons for donate, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Donate to Support Science Literacy Facebook Twitter YouTube ASP logo

Astronomy in the News

Mercury Autummn 2011 Table of Contents


Vesta

The south polar region of Vesta; the smallest detail visible is about 1.2 miles. Rough topography, a large mountain, impact craters, grooves, and steep scarps characterize this region. Courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Dawn Science Team Presents Early Science Results

NASA/JPL

Scientists with NASA's Dawn mission are sharing with other scientists and the public their early information about the southern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta.

Dawn, which has been orbiting Vesta since mid-July, has found that the asteroid's southern hemisphere boasts one of the largest mountains in the solar system. Other findings show that Vesta's surface, viewed by Dawn at different wavelengths, has striking diversity in its composition, particularly around craters. Science findings also include an in-depth analysis of a set of equatorial troughs on Vesta and a closer look at the object's intriguing craters. The surface appears to be much rougher than most asteroids in the main asteroid belt. In addition, preliminary dates from a method that uses the number of craters indicate that areas in the southern hemisphere are as young as 1 billion to 2 billion years old, much younger than areas in the north.

Scientists do not yet understand how all the features on Vesta's surface formed, but they did announce, after analysis of northern and southern troughs, that results are consistent with models of fracture formation due to giant impact.

Since July, the Dawn spacecraft has been spiraling closer and closer to Vesta, moving in to get better and better views of the surface. In early August, the spacecraft reached an orbital altitude of 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) and mapped most of the sunlit surface, during survey orbit, with its framing camera and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer. That phase was completed in late August, and the spacecraft began moving in to High Altitude Mapping Orbit.


If you enjoyed this excerpt from a feature article and would like to receive our quarterly Mercury magazine, we invite you to join the ASP and receive 4 issues a year.