Dawn suggests special delivery of hydrated material to Vesta

Sep 26, 2012
The map from NASA's Dawn mission of the giant asteroid Vesta indicates the presence of hydrated minerals in white, with areas with high concentrations circled with a yellow dotted line in the annotated version. The data were obtained by VIR, Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, in August 2011 from an altitude of 2700 meters. The data included in the map are from Survey and are limited to 30 degrees north latitude because of the poor illumination condition above that latitude (Vesta winter season). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/INAF

(Phys.org)—The mechanism by which water is incorporated into the terrestrial planets is a matter of extensive debate for planetary scientists. Now, observations of Vesta by NASA's Dawn mission suggest that hydrous materials were delivered to the giant asteroid mainly through a build-up of small particles during an epoch when the Solar System was rich in dust. This is a radically different process from the way in which hydrous materials are deposited on the moon and may have implications for the formation of terrestrial planets, including the delivery of the water that forms Earth's oceans. Maria Cristina De Sanctis and the Dawn team will present the scenarios at the European Planetary Science Congress in Madrid on Wednesday 26th September.

De Sanctis, of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Planetology in Rome, said, 'Vesta's surface shows distinct areas enriched with hydrated materials. These regions are not dependent on solar illumination or temperature, as we find in the case of the Moon. The uneven distribution is unexpected and indicates ancient processes that differ from those believed to be responsible for delivering water to other airless bodies, like the Moon.'

A team led by De Sanctis studied data from Dawn's visible and infrared (VIR) mapping spectrometer. Analysis showed large regional concentrations of hydroxyl – a hydrogen and an bound together – clearly associated with including ancient, highly-cratered terrains and the Oppia crater.

Hydroxyl on the surface of the Moon is thought to be created continuously by the interaction of protons from the solar wind with the . Highest concentrations are found in areas near the and in permanently shadowed crater where it is very cold. By contrast, the distribution of hydroxyl on Vesta is not dependent on significant shadowing or unusual . It is also stable over time, so its origin does not appear to be due to short-term processes.

The hydroxyl-rich regions on Vesta broadly correspond to its oldest surfaces. Around relatively large and young impact craters, hydroxyl detections are weak or absent, suggesting that the delivery of hydroxyl is not an ongoing process.

The evidence from VIR suggests that much of Vesta's hydroxyl was delivered by small particles of primitive material, less than a few centimeters in diameter, over a time-limited period. This period may have occurred during the primordial solar system, around the time it is believed water was accreted on Earth, or during the Late Heavy Bombardment, when collisions would have produced a significant amount of primitive material dust.

However, this is not the whole story of hydrous materials on Vesta. The Oppia Crater is hydroxyl-rich, but not covered with the primitive material. This suggests that there is more than one mechanism at work for depositing hydroxyl on Vesta's surface.

De Sanctis said, 'The origin of Vesta's hydroxyl is certainly complex and possibly not unique: there could be various sources, like formation of hydroxyl actually on Vesta, in addition to the primordial impactors. Vesta is providing new insights into the delivery of hydrous materials in the main asteroid belt, and may offer new scenarios on the delivery of hydrous minerals in the inner , suggesting processes that may have played a role in the formation of .'

Explore further: First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

Related Stories

Dawn sees new surface features on giant asteroid

Mar 21, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft has revealed unexpected details on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. New images and data highlight the diversity of Vesta's surface and reveal unusual geologic ...

Vesta likely cold and dark enough for ice

Jan 25, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Though generally thought to be quite dry, roughly half of the giant asteroid Vesta is expected to be so cold and to receive so little sunlight that water ice could have survived there for ...

Recommended for you

Kazakh satellite to be launched into orbit

18 hours ago

Kazakhstan's first-ever Earth observation satellite is to be fired into orbit next week from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana, launch company Arianespace said.

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

20 hours ago

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

Apr 23, 2014

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

Google+ boss leaving the company

The executive credited with bringing the Google+ social network to life is leaving the Internet colossus after playing a key role there for nearly eight years.

Facebook woos journalists with 'FB Newswire'

Facebook launched Thursday FB Newswire, billed as an online trove of real-time information for journalists and newsrooms to mine while reporting on events or crafting stories.