NASA's Dawn science team presents early science results

Oct 13, 2011
This full view of the giant asteroid Vesta was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, as part of a rotation characterization sequence on July 24, 2011, at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometers). A rotation characterization sequence helps the scientists and engineers by giving an initial overview of the character of the surface as Vesta rotated underneath the spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

(PhysOrg.com) -- 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. The findings were presented today at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Minneapolis, Minn.

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 , 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 . 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 today, after analysis of northern and southern troughs, that results are consistent with models of fracture formation due to giant impact.

Since July, the 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 .

That phase was completed in late August, and the spacecraft began moving in to what is known as Mapping Orbit at about 420 miles (680 kilometers) above Vesta, which it reached on Sept. 29.

An archive of the live news conference is available for viewing at: www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2 .

The Dawn scientists also shared their findings at the recent European Planetary Science Congress and the Division of Planetary Sciences Joint Meeting 2011 in Nantes, France.

launched in September 2007 and arrived at Vesta on July 15, 2011. Following a year at Vesta, the spacecraft will depart in July 2012 for the dwarf planet Ceres, where it will arrive in 2015.

Explore further: Heavy metal frost? A new look at a Venusian mystery

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dawn spacecraft begins new Vesta mapping orbit

Oct 03, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft has completed a gentle spiral into its new science orbit for an even closer view of the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn began sending science data on Sept. 29 from this new ...

Dawn beams back asteroid science data

Aug 12, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Dawn spacecraft has completed a graceful spiral into the first of four planned science orbits during the spacecraft's yearlong visit to Vesta. The spacecraft started taking detailed observations ...

Dawn nears start of year-long stay at giant asteroid

Jun 24, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on track to begin the first extended visit to a large asteroid. The mission expects to go into orbit around Vesta on July 16 and begin gathering science data in early ...

Dawn captures first image of nearing asteroid

May 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft has obtained its first image of the giant asteroid Vesta, which will help fine-tune navigation during its approach. Dawn is expected to achieve orbit around Vesta on ...

The faces of Vesta (w/ video)

Jun 24, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- New images of the asteroid show the first surface structures and give a preview of the Dawn mission's coming months.

Recommended for you

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

1 hour ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

1 hour ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

How to grip an asteroid

1 hour ago

For someone like Edward Fouad, a junior at Caltech who has always been interested in robotics and mechanical engineering, it was an ideal project: help develop robotic technology that could one day fly on ...

Image: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

4 hours ago

It was 45 years ago when astronomer Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, one of his researchers, unwittingly began a new chapter in the history of space exploration.

Extreme ultraviolet image of a significant solar flare

4 hours ago

The sun emitted a significant solar flare on Oct. 19, 2014, peaking at 1:01 a.m. EDT. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is always observing the sun, captured this image of the event in extreme ultraviolet ...

Heavy metal frost? A new look at a Venusian mystery

23 hours ago

Venus is hiding something beneath its brilliant shroud of clouds: a first order mystery about the planet that researchers may be a little closer to solving because of a new re-analysis of twenty-year-old ...

User comments : 0