Written by Priscilla Vega and Jia-Rui Cook
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – A new video from NASA’s Dawn mission reveals the dappled, variegated surface of the giant asteroid Vesta.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 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.
Dawn has imaged the majority of the surface of Vesta with the framing camera to provide this 3-D map. While some areas in the north were in shadow at the time the images were obtained by the camera, Dawn expects to improve its coverage of Vesta’s northern hemisphere with additional observations. Dawn’s viewing geometry also prevented mapping of a portion of the mountain of the south pole.
The spacecraft is currently spiraling up from its lowest-altitude orbit into its final science orbit, where its average altitude will be about 420 miles (680 kilometers). Dawn is scheduled to leave Vesta around August 26th.
The Dawn mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, VA, designed and built the Dawn spacecraft.
The framing cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin made significant contributions in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering in Braunschweig. The framing camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR and NASA. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.