Mission probes secrets of Vesta asteroid

May 10, 2012 at 8:25 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., May 10 (UPI) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft has provided the first orbital analysis of the giant asteroid Vesta, which scientists are now calling a fossil of the early solar system. The Dawn mission has offered new insights into Vesta's creation and its relationship to terrestrial planets and Earth's moon, NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported Wednesday. Scientists have used Dawn's data and observations to confirm a variety of ways in which Vesta more closely resembles a small planet or Earth's moon than other asteroids, because it has a more varied, diverse surface than originally thought. "Dawn's visit to Vesta has confirmed our broad theories of this giant asteroid's history, while helping to fill in details it would have been impossible to know from afar," said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator at JPL. "Dawn's residence at Vesta of nearly a year has made the asteroid's planet-like qualities obvious and shown us our connection to that bright orb in our night sky." Scientists say Vesta is a layered, planetary building block with an iron core, the only one known to survive from the earliest days of the solar system. Launched in 2007, Dawn began exploring Vesta in mid-2011, and will depart Vesta Aug. 26 for its next study target, the dwarf planet Ceres, in 2015.

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