ScienceShot: Asteroid Vesta Exceeds Expectations

The 529-kilometer-diameter asteroid Vesta is revealing even more geologic diversity than scientists had expected. They knew that a collision with another asteroid had splashed off three kinds of rock that still land on Earth as meteorites. And Vesta's overall spectral color, as returned by NASA's orbiting Dawn spacecraft, matches that of these Vesta meteorites, Dawn team members reported today at a planetary science meeting in Nantes, France. But rather than a monotonously uniform surface homogenized by impact cratering over the eons, the first up-close look at the asteroid reveals a full palette of mineral "colors" (mapped here in false color reflecting the wide range of rock compositions). Researchers will now have to sort out how more than 4 billion years of impacts—including one at the south pole that nearly destroyed the asteroid—reshaped Vesta after it developed a crust, mantle, and core much like Earth's.

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