Released today, this is one of several new images taken with the full-frame camera aboard NASA’s Dawn spacecraft currently in orbit around the asteroid Vesta. Look at the detail in the surface! Incredible!
This image shows the southern hemisphere of Vesta, and around its equator are long, deep grooves. Many different sizes of craters can be seen, as well as surfaces of varying colorations and reflectiveness. This asteroid has proved to be quite a surprising place… and the real investigation has only just begun.
Remember too, Vesta is not a small chunk of rock. It’s a complicated world, the second-largest object in the main asteroid belt, and has a surface area twice as large as the state of California. That’s a big place!
“We have been calling Vesta the smallest terrestrial planet. The latest imagery provides much justification for our expectations. They show that a variety of processes were once at work on the surface of Vesta and provide extensive evidence for Vesta’s planetary aspirations.”
– Chris Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator at UCLA.
Here are a couple more brand-new images from Dawn:
When we look at the surface of Vesta we are looking at over 4.65 billion years of our solar system’s history! That’s just amazing.
“It’s really a beautiful and exciting small world sitting there in the middle of the asteroid belt.”
Dawn was approximately 3,200 miles (5200 km) from Vesta when these images were taken.
Vesta is the brightest object in the asteroid belt as seen from Earth and is thought to be the source of a large number of meteorites that fall to Earth. Dawn launched in September 2007. Following a year at Vesta, the spacecraft will depart in July 2012 for Ceres, where it will arrive in 2015. Read more about the Dawn mission here.
Also check out this cool animation showing Vesta rotating:
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Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA