An Asteroid’s Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat

Vesta — the asteroid that was almost a planet — has its complex surface composition revealed in this animation made from images acquired by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft.

The video reveals the dappled, variegated surface of the giant asteroid Vesta, the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt. 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 region around Rheasilvia basin on Vesta’s south pole is high in iron, based on the green coloration shown in the animation

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. (Source)

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 and established orbit on July 16, 2011. After spending a year studying Vesta the spacecraft will depart for the largest asteroid, Ceres, arriving in 2015. Read more about the Dawn mission here.

Video credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI