Vesta asteroid image may reveal origins of solar system: NASA

Vesta asteroid image may reveal origins of solar system: NASA

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Scientists at NASA have released the latest image captured of a asteroid hurtling through space.

Officials at NASA released new photos of Vesta, one of the latest asteroids in the asteroid belt. The image was obtained by the radical ion-engined deep space probecraft Dawn, according to space agency officials. With a width of about 330 miles (530 km), asteroid Vesta is one of the largest and brightest objects in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. NASA’s Dawn probe has been orbiting Vesta since 2011 to study the space rock in unprecedented detail.

The new photos of Vesta from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft highlight a number of spots that are nearly twice as bright as other parts of the asteroid — suggesting it is original material left over from the space rock’s birth 4 billion years ago, NASA officials said in statement.

Relatively smooth material covers much of the terrace and has flowed downslope through channels. This material was likely melted during the impact from a space rock onto the surface of Vesta that formed Marcia crater. The impact appears to have occurred at a high velocity.

The whole area shown in this image is heavily cratered and covered by fine material. This fine material results in the surface looking relatively smooth and is particularly apparent in the bottom right corner of the image. There are a number of narrow grooves, less than a kilometer (0.6 mile) across, running obliquely across this image. Some of these grooves cut across the rectangular crater, said scientists.

While scientists had seen some brightness variations in previous images of Vesta from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Dawn scientistsalso did not expect such a wide variety of distinct dark depositsacross its surface. The dark materials on Vesta can appear dark gray,brown and red. They sometimes appear assmall, well-defined depositsaround impact craters. They also can appear as larger regionaldeposits, like those surrounding the impact craters scientists havenicknamed the “snowman.”

“One of the surprises was the dark material is not randomly distributed,” said David Williams, a Dawn participating scientist at Arizona State University, Tempe. “This suggests underlying geology determines where it occurs.”

The dark materials seem to be related to impacts and their aftermath. Scientists theorize that slow carbon-rich asteroids may have created some of the smaller dark material deposits without carving out a big crater. Meanwhile, faster objects may have potentially slammed into Vesta so hard they melted the big asteroid’s crust, which could have also created the dark spots, noted astronomers.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington D.C. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science.

The Dawn framing cameras have been developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, with significant contributions by DLR German Aerospace Center, Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig, NASA said in statement.

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