New NASA dawn visuals show Vesta's 'color palette'

December 6, 2011 By Priscilla Vega
This image using color data obtained by the framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows Vesta's southern hemisphere in color, centered on the Rheasilvia formation. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

( -- Vesta appears in a splendid rainbow-colored palette in new images obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The colors, assigned by scientists to show different rock or mineral types, reveal Vesta to be a world of many varied, well-separated layers and ingredients. Vesta is unique among asteroids visited by spacecraft to date in having such wide variation, supporting the notion that it is transitional between the terrestrial planets -- like Earth, Mercury, Mars and Venus -- and its asteroid siblings.

In images from Dawn's framing camera, the colors reveal differences in the rock composition associated with material ejected by impacts and geologic processes, such as slumping, that have modified the asteroid's surface. Images from the visible and reveal that the surface materials contain the iron-bearing mineral pyroxene and are a mixture of rapidly cooled surface rocks and a deeper layer that cooled more slowly. The relative amounts of the different materials mimic the topographic variations derived from images, indicating a layered structure that has been excavated by impacts. The rugged surface of is prone to slumping of debris on steep slopes.

Dawn scientists presented the new images at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Monday, Dec. 5. The panelists included Vishnu Reddy, framing camera team associate, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany; Eleonora Ammannito, visible and infrared spectrometer team associate, Italian Space Agency, Rome; and David Williams, Dawn participating scientist, Arizona State University, Tucson.

"Vesta's iron core makes it special and more like than a garden-variety asteroid," said Carol Raymond, Dawn's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.  "The distinct compositional variation and layering that we see at Vesta appear to derive from internal melting of the body shortly after formation, which separated Vesta into crust, mantle and core."
The presentation also included a new movie, created by David O'Brien of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz., that takes viewers on a spin around a hill on Vesta that appears to be made of a distinctly darker material than the rest of the crust.

Dawn 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.

Dawn's mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

Explore further: Dawn opens its eyes, checks its instruments

Related Stories

Dawn opens its eyes, checks its instruments

March 22, 2011

( -- After a hibernation of about six months, the framing cameras on board NASA's Dawn spacecraft have again ventured a look into the stars. The spacecraft also powered up its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, ...

Dawn spacecraft begins science orbits of Vesta

August 2, 2011

NASA's Dawn spacecraft, the first ever to orbit an object in the main asteroid belt, is spiraling towards its first of four intensive science orbits. That initial orbit of the rocky world Vesta begins Aug. 11, at an altitude ...

Dawn soars over asteroid Vesta in 3-D

December 2, 2011

Glide over the giant asteroid Vesta with NASA's Dawn spacecraft in a new 3-D video.  Dawn has been orbiting Vesta since July 15, obtaining high-resolution images of its bumpy, cratered surface and making other scientific ...

Recommended for you

Getting into the flow on the International Space Station

December 1, 2015

Think about underground water and gas as they filter through porous materials like soil and rock beds. On Earth, gravity forces water and gas to separate as they flow through the ground, cleaning the water and storing it ...

Exiled exoplanet likely kicked out of star's neighborhood

December 1, 2015

A planet discovered last year sitting at an unusually large distance from its star - 16 times farther than Pluto is from the sun - may have been kicked out of its birthplace close to the star in a process similar to what ...

Cassini mission provides insight into Saturn

December 1, 2015

Scientists have found the first direct evidence for explosive releases of energy in Saturn's magnetic bubble using data from the Cassini spacecraft, a joint mission between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian ...

Timing a sextuple quasar

December 1, 2015

Quasars are galaxies with massive black holes at their cores around which vast amounts of energy are being radiated. Indeed, so much light is emitted that the nucleus of a quasar is much brighter than the rest of the entire ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.