After nearly 5 months in orbit around Vesta, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned some incredibly detailed data about the composition and structure of what was once surely considered an asteroid. But now scientists are starting to have second thoughts about what exactly Vesta is… is it really an asteroid? Or is it more like a planet? Some signs seem to indicate the latter, which (once again) raises the question of what classifies a planet and, more importantly, what comprises the ever-surprising family of worlds we call our solar system?
“Vesta is not a simple ball of rock. This is a world with a rich geochemical history.”
– Chris Russell, Dawn mission principal investigator, UCLA
Watch the video above from Science@NASA to learn more.
Vesta resides in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and is believed to be the source of many of the meteorites that fall to Earth. The Dawn spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Vesta on July 16, 2011.
After investigating Vesta for a year Dawn will then leave orbit and move on to Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system, once considered a planet. Once successful Dawn will be the first spacecraft to orbit two different worlds.